When it comes to drastic whitening, over-the-counter products may not be able to give you the results you want. (That's a job for your dentist's office). However, that doesn't necessarily mean the OTC stuff isn't effective. According to Sharon Huang, DDS, founder of Les Belles Dentistry, most OTC teeth whitening products are good at targeting the outer layer of your teeth and reducing "superficial" stains (i.e. stains caused by tea, coffee and other types of drinks).
"The ones that are over-the-counter, like whitening strips and whitening toothpaste, they work on a more superficial level," says Huang. "So that's a really good maintenance over time."
Teeth whitening ingredients to watch out for
When choosing a teeth whitener, it's extremely important to pay attention to the ingredients, especially if you have sensitive teeth. For example, hydrogen peroxide is a common ingredient found in many teeth whitening products due to its effectiveness on improving stains, but it can cause sensitivity, according to Michaela Tozzi, DDS of Michaela DMD Excellence in Dental Aesthetics.
"You can’t prevent having peroxide in your treatments but you should try to limit it," Tozzi adds. Moreover, too much hydrogen peroxide can potentially damage your teeth and even "burn your gums if left in the mouth longer than the recommended time by the manufacturer," Tozzi says.
Of all the over-the-counter teeth whiteners, both Huang and Tozzi agree that whitening strips and whitening trays are the most effective. Unlike whitening pens, the gel from the strips stay on your teeth longer and you can also apply more gel when you have the trays.
Whether you're looking for a way to maintain your pearly whites, or cover up those yellow stains from your coffee (fun fact: tea is much more likely to causing staining than your cup of joe!), here are some of the best teeth whitening products to add to your dental routine.
Best whitening strips
Originally, $49.99, on sale for $47.52
For many people and dentists alike, these Crest whitening strips are the holy grail of over-the-counter whitening products—and for good reason. Not only are they easy to use but they are also great for those with sensitive teeth, says Tozzi. The strips also have a non-slip grip, which allows you to wear them as you talk. Just put them on for 30 minutes once a day and you’re good to go.
With just over 800 five-star reviews, these Zimba strips are great for a quick but effective whitening treatment. Just put them on for 30 minutes and let them gradually do their work. Additionally, they’re chemical-free and enamel safe so sensitive teeth users may be able to use them freely.
For those with sensitive teeth, these non-toxic Lumineux whitening strips are a safe bet. Instead of using peroxide, they rely on the strength of various oils including coconut oil, sage oil and lemon peel oil to help whiten your teeth. That means less pain, gum irritation and roughness on your teeth overall. The kit comes with 42 strips which equals to 21 treatments.
Created by dentists, these Spotlight strips are designed to help brighten your smile without damaging your teeth. However, hydrogen peroxide is the star ingredient and helps chip away at some of those superficial stains on the outer layer of your teeth. At the same time, this also comes with gum oil to help decrease sensitivity. Just take them off after an hour and you’re good to go.
Best teeth whitening products for sensitive teeth, hands down
If you have sensitive teeth, Huang says she prefers using a whitening product that has a buffer to help “counter the whitening” such as a coconut or aloe ingredient. That’s exactly what makes these Burst whitening strips great for those with sensitivity. The formula includes coconut oil, which essentially helps decrease sensitivity and eliminate that chemical taste.
Whitening products don’t always need to have peroxide to get the job done. In fact, this Keeko pen is peroxide free and uses a mix of bicarbonate soda, cranberry, aloe vera and chamomile as a guard for sensitive teeth during the whitening process. Just note, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the retailer encourages you to consult your doctor before using this product.
After your nightly floss, follow up your rinse with this ACT mouthwash. Although most mouthwashes contain alcohol, which gives it its sting, this one does not. The fluoride ingredient helps strengthen and whiten the teeth, in addition to stopping bad breath in its tracks.
Originally $26, on sale for $21.99
If you’re looking to see a difference, Tozzi recommends this whitening pen from AuraGlow. It contains 35 percent carbamide peroxide and includes at least 15 whitening treatments. For Tozzi, it’s a win-win because “it dries on your teeth within 60 seconds and shows results right away.”
Best teeth whitening pens
The best part of this set is the amount of treatments you get for the price. While many $20 whitening pens only come in a two-pack set, this one has eight pens for application. Additionally, it has a hydrogen peroxide base formula and comes with two lip balms to cap off your smile. To use the pens effectively, be sure to apply the gel twice a day for a week to help boost results.
For a whitening pen that’s fast and easy to use, look no further than this one from VieBeauti. The gel contains 35 percent carbamide peroxide and is good to use for at least 20 uses. Since they’re fun-sized (about five inches), the pens are great to pack when traveling and can easily fit in an overnight bag if you need to touch up on the road.
Not only does this Glo to Go pen help brighten your teeth, but it also helps protect your mouth from cavities. That’s largely due to the addition of antimicrobials and xylitol inside the gel. Along with hydrogen peroxide, these two ingredients work together to help eliminate bacteria that could lead to cavities and bad breath.
Originally $17.85, on sale for $15.59
As a budget-friendly pick, this set of AsaVea whitening is a total fan-favorite. The pens are good for about 20 uses and contain 35 percent carbamide peroxide, an ingredient that studies have shown to be safe and effective in teeth whitening use. Additionally, each pen has a soft tip brush that makes coating your teeth easy and hassle-free.
Best teeth whitening kits
Originally $75, on sale for $65.50
If you like to keep your oral hygiene low maintenance, these pre-filled whitening trays from Opalescence Go may be the way to go. The kit includes 10 trays with a whitening gel inside that contains potassium nitrate, fluoride and hydrogen peroxide. You just slip them right onto your teeth, remove the outer layer, and you’re good to go for the next 15 to 20 minutes.
Instead of going to the dentist to get custom trays fitted for your teeth, you can create your own with this Smile Brilliant Kit. The company sends you everything you need to make your moldings and ships them to a dental lab. Once your final impressions are ready, you’ll receive them in the mail along with some teeth whitening gel. As a bonus, you can choose the strength of your whitening gel to target mild or heavy stains, which can include stains caused by smoke, wine, and caffeinated drinks.
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