There are SO many different ways to whiten teeth at home…but they’re not all created equal! We’re breaking down the most common methods – from toothpastes, to strips, to gels – to find out which works best.
So You Want to Whiten Your Teeth at Home?
Notice that your teeth are looking a little, well, yellow?
I find that over time, even with whitening toothpaste, my teeth start to appear a little dingy. The color of your teeth is largely determined by genetics, which is a bit of a bummer when yellowish teeth run in the family! However, there ARE whitening treatments that can help fight back against genetics and yellow teeth.
I’ve spent years trying to find the best way to whiten teeth at home, and save money over going to the dentist for in-office whitening treatments.
Why to Skip the Dentist
While professional teeth whitening services at your dentist DO work, they can set you back $500 or more! (source) Plus, you’ll still need regular in-office treatments to maintain your pearly whites, and those aren’t cheap either.
With the right home teeth whitening techniques, you can get the same or similar results whitening your teeth at home, at a fraction of the cost. For me, it was a no-brainer!
In this post I’ll break down some of the most common ways to try to whiten teeth at home:
- Natural teeth whitening methods (charcoal, coconut oil, etc.)
- Whitening toothpaste
- Over-the-counter whitening strips
- Whitening gel & trays
Here’s what works, what doesn’t, and what is probably a total waste of time!
Do Natural Teeth Whitening Methods Work?
You might have heard old wive’s tales about how to whiten teeth naturally at home, or perhaps you did some research out of curiosity. I mean if you could really whiten your teeth with simple home products, you’d save a ton of money! Worth a try…right?
A few of the most popular suggested natural methods to whiten teeth:
- Baking soda paste
- Apple cider vinegar
- Coconut oil pulling
- Brushing teeth with charcoal
But do they work??
I’ve tried all of the above over the years, with negligible results. The only thing that’s ever worked for me are professional home teeth whitening treatments.
While some studies show that swishing apple cider vinegar or coconut oil may be good for overall oral health, they are not known for serious whitening ability.
The verdict: Most natural “methods” for whitening teeth are marginally effective at best. Brushing with baking soda and/or activated charcoal may help remove some surface stains, but won’t provide lasting results. Most other natural whitening methods are probably a waste of time altogether.
What About Whitening Toothpaste?
Like some of the above natural methods, most whitening toothpastes that you can purchase at the local grocer use an abrasive to polish away surface stains. They don’t always remove deep-set stains or change the color of the tooth itself.
A whitening toothpaste may be helpful for daily maintenance, however, for more permanent whitening results you’ll need a product that contains a bleaching ingredient like peroxide.
The type of toothbrush (electric vs. manual) can also impact your whitening results, or help you better maintain your results between home whitening treatments.
The verdict: Whitening toothpastes use an abrasive and are useful for daily cleaning and surface stains; however, they won’t change the color of your teeth like a bleaching product.
All Teeth Whitening Kits are Not Created Equal
There are two main types of home whitening kits:
- Whitening strips
- Whitening trays and gel syringes
Whitening strips are plastic strips that are coated in whitening gel and you press onto your teeth. Whitening trays are molded plastic (sometimes custom-fitted to your own teeth) in which you insert gel from a syringe.
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Whitening Strips vs. Whitening Trays
Over-the-counter teeth whitening strips usually only contain up to 10% peroxide (source), while a prescription-strength professional teeth whitening kit usually contains 20% or more of that same active whitening ingredient. Many of the most popular kits contain 34% of more.
The math is simple — OTC teeth whiteners usually contain half as much of the active whitening ingredient that a prescription strength gel does. So while the store-bought options have the same ingredient and do work, your results likely won’t be as striking, or you’ll need to use the product for twice as long to achieve the same desired whiteness.
Perhaps the most common grocery store option are whitening strips — I’ve tried lots of those!
While whitening strips did work (some better than others), most of them took a long time to see results (up to 2 weeks!) Any whitening strips that promised faster results made my teeth extremely sensitive, so I always had to take a break halfway through. That pretty much defeats the purpose of a “faster” treatment schedule.
And don’t even get me started on the slippery whitening strips that leak and move around on your teeth…yuck!
After trying custom-fitted whitening trays, I find that this method works best.
I prefer whitening trays over whitening strips because trays fit your teeth exactly. There’s far less leakage so you don’t taste yucky whitening gel. They also don’t slide around so you can pretty much wear the trays anytime.
I usually wore my whitening trays after I brushed my teeth for the night, while I watched my evening TV shows, since the optimum use time is 40-90 minutes. Because they don’t leak or shift around in your mouth, I hardly noticed the trays were there!
Here are some of the best-rated teeth whitening gels and trays to get started:
- Teeth whitening gel (extra strength- 44% active ingredient)
- Moldable whitening trays
- Complete teeth whitening start-up kit
Is Home Teeth Whitening Safe?
Rest easy, teeth whitening is considered to be one of the safest dental procedures there is! (source) It’s also safe when you are pregnant or nursing (one of my initial questions).
If you do experience sensitivity while bleaching, simply reduce the amount of time wearing your trays, or try bleaching every other day instead of every day. You can also fill your trays with sensitive toothpaste (after you’ve cleaned the trays of course) and let your teeth soak for 20-30 minutes.
How to Keep Your Teeth Looking Whiter, Longer
Once you’ve whitened your teeth, you definitely want to keep them looking bright and clean! Here are a few tips to maintain your white smile:
- Brush your teeth immediately after eating or drinking. Most food doesn’t create significant stains, but things like coffee and tea do. While cutting out coffee isn’t a realistic option for most of us (I love my coffee too much), brushing teeth immediately afterwards can help prevent stains from setting.
- Avoid smoking. We all know it’s not good for our bodies and lungs, and it isn’t good for our teeth either. The smoke from cigarettes contains nicotine and tar (among other things), which yellows and stains teeth. Furthermore, smoking can lead to gum disease and oral cancer.
- Touch-up with whitening gel regularly. Once you’ve achieved your desired shade, maintain it by doing a whitening treatment once a week, or even once a month.