How to Whiten Teeth

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Alyssa Hill
Written by
Alyssa Hill
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Evidence Based
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14 sources cited
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How to Whiten Your Teeth Without Harming Them

Teeth whitening improves the appearance of your smile and reduces tooth discoloration. A brighter smile can also boost your self-confidence and make you look younger.

There are many teeth whitening options available today. Some are more invasive, while others provide a cheaper and conservative whitening experience. 

For example, you can set up an appointment with your dentist for professional teeth whitening. However, this option is the most expensive and time-consuming.

Other forms of teeth whitening include over-the-counter products (e.g., whitening strips and toothpaste), at-home LED whitening kits, and whitening pens. These products are cheaper and more convenient than professional teeth whitening but may not provide lasting results. 

Best Overall (Editor’s Pick)GLO Teeth Whitening Kits

Runner Up Snow Teeth Whitening Kit

Best on a Budget AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Kit

You can also whiten your teeth at home with DIY remedies. Although this is the cheapest and easiest option, be careful of the products you use to whiten your teeth.  

Some methods that are marketed as “safe,” like lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, can actually harm your teeth. While they may whiten your teeth, these acidic products can cause enamel erosion over time. This weakens your teeth and can lead to tooth decay. 

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends talking with your dentist before using any at-home whitening products. Some products can cause severe harm like gum irritation, sensitivity, and enamel erosion when used incorrectly

What Causes Yellow Teeth?

There are two forms of tooth discoloration, including extrinsic and intrinsic discoloration:

Extrinsic Discoloration

Extrinsic discoloration affects the outside of your teeth. These surface stains are shallow. Most types of extrinsic staining can be treated with over-the-counter or professional teeth whitening products.

Causes of extrinsic discoloration include:

  • Tea and coffee
  • Red wine
  • Soda
  • Dyes
  • Dark berries (drinking milk can neutralize the acid after eating berries to prevent staining)
  • Pasta sauce
  • Tobacco (cigarette smoke and chewing tobacco)
  • Poor oral hygiene and plaque buildup

Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic discoloration forms within your teeth. This form of discoloration is deeper than extrinsic discoloration. Because of this, professional whitening treatment is typically necessary. Over-the-counter products will not whiten your teeth if you have intrinsic discoloration. 

Causes of intrinsic discoloration include:

  • Certain medications (antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline)
  • Natural aging
  • Diseases that prevent normal tooth development 
  • Medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation
  • Tooth decay
  • Fluorosis (white spots on teeth caused by too much fluoride)
  • Amalgam dental restorations 
  • Tooth trauma or injury (reduced blood flow to the tooth)
  • Genetic defects

5 Ways to Whiten Teeth 

1. Hydrogen Peroxide-Containing Dental Products

Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use on teeth when diluted in toothpaste or mouthwash. It is best to use over-the-counter whitening products that contain 1.5 to 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. 

Do not apply homemade hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste directly to your teeth. The concentration of this mixture is typically too strong. Overuse can erode your tooth enamel, which can lead to cavities and sensitivity. 

2. Oral Health Care & Balanced Diet

The most effective way to prevent staining is to take good care of your teeth and eat a balanced diet. More specifically, to keep your teeth white long-term, incorporate these tips into your lifestyle:

  • Get professional teeth cleanings every six months
  • Don’t eat sugary junk food 
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day before bed
  • Limit your intake of staining products like soda, red wine, tea, coffee, foods with dyes, etc.
  • Use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash a few times per week
  • Whiten your teeth with over-the-counter or professional products (as needed)
  • Do not use tobacco products 

Also, eat more vegetables, pineapple, dairy products, nuts, seeds, onions, carrots, and celery. All of these foods have been shown to improve tooth brightness and strength.

3. Professional Teeth Whitening Options

Professional teeth whitening requires visiting a dentist for treatment. There are currently two forms available, including in-office and at-home professional whitening methods:

In-Office Whitening Treatment

In-office whitening treatments are very effective and provide quick results. They can be completed during routine teeth cleanings (every six months).

In-office whitening treatments take about one hour. They can make your teeth two to three shades lighter in one visit. 

All of these treatments also have a similar active ingredient (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). Some incorporate the use of an LED light to provide deeper whitening. 

Common in-office whitening treatments include: 

  • Zoom! will make your teeth dramatically whiter in less than an hour. The procedure begins with covering your lips and gums, leaving only your teeth exposed. Then your dentist will apply a whitening gel to your teeth, which is designed to be used with a specially designed light. The light and gel work together to penetrate your teeth, removing discoloration and stains. With proper care, Zoom’s whitening effects can last for a year. Zoom whitening costs around $500 per treatment and is not covered by insurance. 
  • Opalescence™ Boost™ is an in-office whitening treatment that uses a chemically activated gel to provide brighter teeth within an hour. It does not incorporate the use of a light. Boost whitening costs around $500 per treatment and is not covered by insurance. 
  • KöR whitening uses a continuously refrigerated, high-potency gel. This gel is combined with a scientifically designed application system to deliver visibly whiter teeth after just one use. KöR also provides less tooth sensitivity than leading brands like Zoom. This whitening treatment costs anywhere between $500 to $1,000. 
Take-Home Whitening Treatment

Take-home teeth whitening treatment requires a prescription from your dentist. It requires more steps than in-office whitening treatment. This form of professional whitening is also more invasive and ideal for deep stains (intrinsic discoloration).

The take-home whitening treatment process consists of four steps:

  1. You will visit your dentist and have impressions made of your teeth
  2. Your dentist will make custom whitening trays that are designed to fit your mouth
  3. They will provide you with at least six months' worth of trays and whitening gel at a time
  4. You can purchase refills of the professional strength gel and use it in the original trays

4. Natural Teeth Whitening Options

Natural teeth whitening products do not contain peroxide to whiten teeth. They incorporate botanicals, essential oils, and other natural ingredients to lift stains gradually. Two popular natural teeth whitening kits include Lumineux Oral Essentials Teeth Whitening Kit and Primal Life Real White Teeth Whitening System

Natural teeth whitening products are usually also:

  • 100% vegan
  • Cruelty-free
  • Certified non-toxic
  • Fluoride-free
  • Non-abrasive 
  • Gluten-free
  • Preservative-free
  • Sulfate-free
  • Latex-free
  • Paraben-free
  • Kosher

5. At-Home Teeth Whitening Options 

You can buy at-home teeth whitening treatments over-the-counter or online. These treatments are effective at removing stains but need to be used regularly to maintain results. Common methods include whitening strips, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. LED whitening kits and whitening pens are other popular options. 

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are the most popular teeth whitening method. To apply whitening strips:

  1. Dry off your teeth, and then apply the strips to your top and bottom teeth
  2. Keep the strips on for 30 minutes
  3. Peel them off and brush your teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste

Whitening strips have to be applied regularly to maintain brightness. 

Popular products include Crest 3D Whitening Strips and Lumineux Teeth Whitening Strips

In June 2017, Crest’s teeth whitening strips were awarded the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. They were the first product in this category to receive this seal for safety and effectiveness. 

Whitening Toothpaste & Mouthwash 

Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash contain small amounts of carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. They do not contain bleach. This means these products can effectively lighten teeth, but only about one or two shades. 

Whitening toothpaste can also be abrasive if overused, which can lead to enamel erosion or dentin exposure. Only use whitening toothpaste once a week or less to prevent these adverse effects. 

Popular products include Tom's Fluoride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening Natural Toothpaste and Colgate Optic White Renewal Teeth Whitening Toothpaste with Fluoride

LED Teeth Whitening Kits

LED teeth whitening kits incorporate a bleaching agent and an LED (light-emitting diode) light to whiten teeth. Some natural teeth whitening kits also incorporate LED lights. 

An LED light alone will not change the color of your teeth. It helps speed up the whitening process when combined with a tooth-whitening agent. When this interaction occurs, the blue LED light penetrates the enamel and lifts stains.

Does Teeth Whitening Treatment Really Work?

With centuries of research-based evidence, both over-the-counter and professional whitening methods are safe and effective. 

Some products (like LED teeth whitening) are more effective than whitening strips and toothpaste. However, both provide some level of teeth whitening. In-office teeth whitening is the most effective option and provides the longest-lasting results.

The key factor in safety is whitening your teeth properly. Always follow the directions provided by your dentist (or the product label for at-home products).

If you do not follow the directions, you may experience negative side effects. These can include:

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Reversed whitening effects (teeth appearing more discolored than before)
  • Gum irritation
  • Loss of tooth enamel (protective layer of teeth), which can lead to cavities
  • Increased risk of tooth fracture and damage

Why You Should Trust Us 

All medical content on this site, including this guide and other product reviews, is written by our team of experienced writers and researchers. All NewMouth writers vet products that are recommended and reviewed in the industry. In cases where this is not possible, our team will:

  • Compare positive and negative reviews on the products
  • Talk to company leaders to ensure their products are safe and effective
  • Look into costs to ensure customers are getting the best quality products at reasonable prices
  • Read research studies to compare the pros and cons of each product

Every piece of content is heavily reviewed before publication. All content on NewMouth is also medically reviewed by a licensed dentist, specifically any content where we recommend products. Our dentists are specifically instructed to flag any recommendations they don’t agree with. Any products that don’t meet their professional standards are removed.

Many of the products we recommend have the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. These products are proven to be effective in preventing gum disease, cavities, and other oral health conditions.

When we recommend products that do not include this seal of acceptance, we conduct further research to ensure reputability. This may include speaking with company leaders, reading hundreds of customer reviews, and ensuring they provide quality customer service.

Best LED Teeth Whitening Kits

There are many LED teeth whitening brands on the market today. Some of the most popular and effective treatments include:

glo lit

GLO Teeth Whitening Kits

GLO sells patented LED whitening kits. They have also won multiple awards for innovation and effectiveness. The kits include an LED light and Guided Light Optics (GLO) warming heat technology to accelerate the hydrogen peroxide whitening formulation. This provides faster, easier, and more effective whitening.

GLO is the only brand that uses warming heat acceleration, not just light, for 2X faster results. The gel is also vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, enamel-safe, and made in the USA (in addition to being specially formulated to be sensitivity-free).

GLO was invented by a dentist and is trusted by thousands of dental practices for use with their own patients. These dental practices use the exact same warming heat technology to perform in-office whitening treatments.

The recommended standard treatment time for GLO is 5 to 7 days. They claim your teeth will be 5 shades lighter in 5 days and/or noticeably whiter within a week.

Cost: $149 to $199

Read our full review of GLO Teeth Whitening here.

snow all in one teeth whitening kit

Snow Teeth Whitening Kit

Snow is a brand of LED teeth whitening that sells four different kits. Snow’s All-In-One Teeth Whitening Kit is their #1 bestseller. It offers quick whitening results with 99.3 percent ratings across 500,000+ customers.

The whitening gel is vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, and enamel-safe. Snow guarantees visibly whiter teeth after 21 days of use (9-minute application).

According to Dental Advisor, 8 out of 10 dentists would recommend Snow Teeth Whitening to their patients.

Cost: $149 to $200

Read our full review of Snow Teeth Whitening here.

AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Kit, LED Light

AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Kit

AuraGlow is a popular LED teeth whitening kit. It is also one of the most affordable whitening treatments available. 

This whitening kit comes with an LED light and trays to provide a deep whitening for both the top and bottom teeth. The whitening serum contains 35 percent carbamide peroxide.

Reviews show people experience less sensitivity with AuraGlow because of their enamel-safe formula. 

For best results, use AuraGlow for 30 minutes a day.

Cost: $59.99

Read our full review of AuraGlow here.

How Long Do Teeth Whitening Results Last?

How long teeth whitening lasts depends on the type of treatment and how often you whiten your teeth. 

For example, some in-office whitening treatments can last between 6 months to a year with proper care. These treatments are more expensive, and cost between $500 and $1200 per treatment. 

Whitening strips and toothpaste are the cheapest options. However, these treatments do not last long and must be used a few times a week to maintain brightness. Overuse can lead to enamel erosion and sensitivity. 

LED teeth whitening kits provide longer-lasting results than strips and toothpaste. After you reach the desired shade, the kit only needs to be used every few weeks to a month. This will maintain your white teeth (results vary depending on the brand).

Resources

“ADA Seal of Acceptance: Bleaching Products.” Mouth Healthy TM, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/ada-seal-products/category-display?category=Bleaching+Products.

Barrette, Lori. “DIY Teeth Whitening: Too Good to Be True?” URMC Newsroom, 24 July 2020, www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/publications/health-matters/diy-teeth-whitening-too-good-to-be-true.

BJ;, Kleber CJ;Putt MS;Nelson. “In Vitro Tooth Whitening by a Sodium Bicarbonate/Peroxide Dentifrice.” The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9835828/.

Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl (2014): 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/.

CP;, Hara AT;Turssi. “Baking Soda as an Abrasive in Toothpastes: Mechanism of Action and Safety and Effectiveness Considerations.” Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29056187/.

“GLO Brilliant Teeth Whitening Device.” GLO Science, GLO Science, https://gloscience.com/products/glo-brilliant-personal-teeth-whitening-device.

Hayward, Roche et al. “A clinical study of the effectiveness of a light emitting diode system on tooth bleaching.” The open dentistry journal vol. 6 (2012): 143-7. doi:10.2174/1874210601206010143 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466022/.

“Natural Teeth Whitening: Fact vs. Fiction.” Mouth Healthy TM, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/natural-teeth-whitening.

Perdigão Jorge. Tooth Whitening: an Evidence-Based Perspective. Springer, 2016.

“SNOW Teeth Whitening System.” THE DENTAL ADVISOR, www.dentaladvisor.com/evaluations/snow-teeth-whitening-system/.

“SNOW® AT-HOME TEETH WHITENING ALL-IN-ONE KIT.” TrySnow.com, Snow Cosmetics LLC, www.trysnow.com/pages/snow-teeth-whitening-kit-special-offer

“Teeth Whitening Kit.” AuraGlow, AuraGlow, https://auraglow.com/products/teeth-whitening-kit.

“Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10958-tooth-discoloration.

“Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile.” Mouth Healthy TM, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/whitening.

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