How much thought do you give your toothpaste? Smells minty fresh and is on sale? That’s good enough for most. However, there are a variety of toothpastes that target additional dental needs in addition to combating morning breath. Whitening toothpaste, for example, may improve the appearance of your smile by removing some stubborn stains from highly pigmented food, dark-colored fruit, or coffee or tea, while still preventing cavities and oral disease. However, whitening toothpastes are no guarantee of a sparkling smile, and their efficacy pales in comparison to a professional whitening treatment.
“You’re not going to notice anything dramatic,” said Dr. Amr Moursi, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. “In order to get any true effectiveness, you’re probably going to need something from your dentist.”
While that may be the case, over-the-counter whitening toothpaste is a more cost-effective product compared to in-office treatments, and you can use it from the convenience of your home. Whitening toothpaste also contains a lower concentration of whitening ingredients, like hydrogen peroxide (a whitening agent that bleaches teeth), for example, compared to whitening gel treatments or strips, which some people may be sensitive to. And experts told us whitening toothpaste works well when used for maintenance after you’ve used another more potent whitening treatment.
If you’re looking to pair your toothbrush — be it an electric toothbrush or a manual option — with whitening toothpaste, we talked to experts about how to shop for different options and how they work. We only considered whitening toothpastes with the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance based on our experts’ guidance.
Best whitening toothpaste
To recommend the toothpaste options below, we referenced a list of toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Per experts’ advice, we only included options that offer whitening benefits and contain fluoride, an ingredient added to dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash that's proven to reduce your risk of cavities, dentists told us.
Colgate’s toothpaste helps remove surface stains and prevent new ones thanks to hydrated silica, an abrasive the brand says helps polish teeth. It comes in a 3.3-ounce or 4.8-ounce tube.
MOON’s toothpaste contains hydrogen peroxide, a whitening agent the ADA says helps bleach teeth, and has a Fresh Mint flavor. The brand also contains what the brand calls “Elixir X,” a proprietary blend of antioxidants and essential oils that provides benefits like freshening breath. The toothpaste comes in a 4.2-ounce tube.
Tom’s of Maine’s whitening toothpaste contains naturally derived silicas — a type of abrasive — to help remove surface stains from teeth, according to the brand. The toothpaste is available in a Clean Mint flavor and comes in a 4.7-ounce tube.
Like the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste above, SprinJene White Boost toothpaste is formulated with silica to remove surface stains from teeth. It also contains black seed oil, which the brand helps prevent gingivitis (gum disease), and zinc, which the brand says helps control plaque. The toothpaste has a mint flavor and comes in a 5-ounce tube.
This toothpaste from Crest contains an amino acid (molecules that combine to form proteins) formula that the brand says helps heal gums, and remove surface stains from teeth. It’s available here as a 3.7-ounce tube and has a mint flavor.
Hello Products says its whitening toothpaste is formulated with a calcium mineral blend, a mild abrasive to help whiten teeth by scrubbing them clean of surface stains. It uses peppermint and tea tree oil to freshen breath. The toothpaste comes in a 4.7-ounce tube.
Burt’s Bees says this whitening toothpaste is designed with hydrated silica (a type of abrasive) to help remove surface stains from teeth. It comes in a 4.7-ounce tube and only the brand’s Mountain Mint flavor option is ADA-approved.
How to shop for whitening toothpaste
Whether you’re shopping for whitening toothpaste or any kind of toothpaste, the most important thing to look for is an option that contains fluoride and has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Moursi said the ADA Seal of Acceptance is the “gold standard” for choosing dental products — when you see that seal, it means the brand submitted data and other materials to the ADA for approval that their product meets specified safety and efficacy requirements. All toothpastes that earn the ADA Seal of Acceptance are made with fluoride and do not contain flavoring agents like sugar that can cause or contribute to tooth decay.
How does whitening toothpaste work?
According to the ADA, whitening toothpaste primarily relies on abrasives to help remove surface stains from your teeth. Dr. Edmond Hewlett, professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, said all toothpaste is mildly abrasive to scrub teeth clean of dirt and grime — silica and chalk, for example, are two common types of gentle abrasive ingredients found in toothpaste. But whitening toothpaste may be more abrasive than basic types of toothpaste or contain ingredients that specifically target surface stains — sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is one example.
Hewlett noted that the level and type of abrasives in all ADA-accepted toothpastes are safe and gentle — the ADA ensures so when it’s evaluating products to be given the seal. Other types of abrasives — like charcoal — are not as gentle, and experts recommended avoiding them due to possible adverse effects. To date, there is no charcoal toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, and a peer-reviewed study published in The Journal of The American Dental Association found that there wasn’t enough evidence to substantiate the safety and efficacy of charcoal dental products.
Hewlett also said some whitening toothpastes contain peroxide, a bleaching agent. The ADA notes that hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide specifically are commonly used in tooth whitening products. When you brush your teeth with whitening toothpaste that contains peroxide, it can penetrate the enamel and break down discoloration without softening or thinning your teeth, experts assured.
Whitening toothpastes versus other whitening products
While whitening strips or gel are typically applied for 10 minutes or longer, the ADA only recommends brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day. Thus, Hewlett said whitening toothpaste is not in contact with your teeth for a long enough period of time to have the same effect as other at-home whitening products. Whitening toothpaste also typically has a lower concentration of whitening ingredients compared to other at-home and in-office options, further restricting the product’s effectiveness. This doesn’t mean whitening toothpaste doesn’t work — it can. Just be aware of its limitations, experts said.
“There’s nothing wrong with using whitening toothpaste if it has the ADA seal,” Hewlett said. “But as far as truly whitening them like a treatment at the dentist’s office? No. That’s not going to happen.”
Overall, so long as you’re using an ADA-accepted whitening toothpaste, it will help keep your teeth clean and cavity-free, in addition to providing some whitening or stain-removing benefits.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Dr. Amr Moursi is president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a professor at the NYU College of Dentistry.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett is a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, where he also serves as the associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion.