Take it from someone who was once prescribed stannous fluoride for cavities (which gave me the smile of a seasoned smoker): There are dozens of whitening toothpastes and treatments out there, but only so many equipped to actually help brighten your smile.
Dentist Mandy Kouroshnia of New York’s Unison Family Dental says for the best results with whitening products at home, you should be considering what kinds of stains you’re dealing with first. Sometimes she says if you’re seeing telltale yellowing when you smile, you may only need a standard cleaning in the office, while other deep stains can’t be removed through whitening, period (tetracycline stains are one example). But generally, if you’re getting regular cleanings in-office and perhaps the occasional whitening treatment, at-home toothpastes, gels, and mouthwashes can be very helpful for maintaining your pearly whites. Here, we talked to dentists to get their insights on the most efficient whitening toothpastes and kits to invest in.
Whitening toothpaste is one drugstore product you can use to cover your bases, but Kouroshnia says that ideally, you’re using them in addition to other whitening solutions. New York cosmetic dentist Edward A. Alvarez typically recommends Colgate Optic White to his patients for true tooth-bleaching. Unlike options like Crest 3D White that rely on physical tooth-polishers like silica or calcium carbonate, which can dull the surface of the enamel over time, “Optic White contains hydrogen peroxide in a small concentration that will actually whiten or bleach your tooth enamel, giving you true color change to your tooth structure.”
Kouroshnia prefers to use this Opalescence whitening toothpaste, which we’ve written about before, to keep her teeth white. It does rely on silica to polish teeth, but is designed with a low abrasion formula, so it’s safer to use every day. The fluoride in it can help with tooth sensitivity, and it comes in different flavors like Cool Mint and Melon to suit your tastes. “I feel like Opalescence shines your teeth really well. It’s quite good,” she says.
Should you want something even lower commitment than a toothpaste, Alvarez says he swishes Listerine Healthy White every day to keep his smile bright. “The mouthwash contains hydrogen peroxide to whiten your teeth, just like Optic White, as well as fluoride to help strengthen teeth.”
And because even something as simple as a deep-clean can create noticeably whiter teeth, an electric toothbrush can be a massive help. Kouroshnia says, “The thing with the electric toothbrush is not just that it makes your life easier. The vibration of those bristles, especially the ones from Sonicare, go into the pores. Whitening settings [editor’s note: like the White setting on this Sonicare toothbrush] vibrate even more to remove all of those particles or little stains that are stuck in the unevenness of your tooth surface.”
Though all of the products listed above should work on superficial stains, if you want something closer to the real deal of an office whitening treatment, both dentists said the most effective at-home options are take-home trays that contain hydrogen peroxide. They’re the closest to an in-office whitening session (which typically involves a higher percentage of hydrogen peroxide, and a custom-fit bleaching tray) that you can get.
“Personally, I have take-home trays at home and I really like the freedom of whitening as much as I want, for as long as I want, whenever I want,” says Kouroshnia. She adds that they’re less likely to cause the same sensitivities as with a box of white strips.
One example is Opalescence Go, a kit that comes in varying concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (there are 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, and 35 percent versions). Each kit comes with pre-filled trays (or ones with syringe refills) that are one size fits all to suit everyone’s teeth and can be used anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight.
Alvarez says, “I see results that are almost as good with the Opalescence Go as I do with custom bleaching trays, and many times I tell patients to try the kit and save money. The trade-off is that the Opalescence Go is disposable, and when you run out of trays, you have to buy a new kit. With custom-made bleaching trays, you keep them indefinitely, and can buy more gel later on at a lower price.”
Another bleaching system recommended by Kouroshnia is Philips Zoom Day White and Nite Bright kits. These also come in varying concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (from 6 to 14 percent for the Day White, and 16 to 22 percent for the Nite Bright), with the only caveat being that your dentist will need to fit you for a custom bleaching tray first. “Your dentist will make a mold of your mouth to create a custom tray that you take home and fill with the whitening gel. According to your sensitivities, you can apply as needed for 15 to 30 minutes—or longer, if you wanted,” she explains.
A Helpful Aid If You Experience Tooth Sensitivity
And since you should expect greater tooth sensitivity if you use whitening products (especially if you’ve had cavities or crowns in the past), Kouroshnia says a simple solution that she recommends to patients is a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. “I don’t suggest brushing with it, per se,” she says, “but when you’re done with your hygiene routine, you can rub a pea-size amount of something like Sensodyne all over your teeth.” She explains that it helps block the nerve endings, which can get very agitated after bleaching, so you don’t feel as much pain.