Dentistry
Cosmetic
Product Reviews
Updated on December 21, 2022
9 min read

Best Teeth Whitening Methods & Products for Safe Teeth Whitening

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Key Takeaways

  • Teeth whitening is safe if you follow manufacturer/dentist recommendations and use the right products.
  • It’s best to stick to professional whitening methods to ensure safe and effective results.
  • If using an at-home whitening kit, start with a whitening serum that contains 8% to 12% hydrogen peroxide.
  • Like other dental treatments, teeth whitening comes with different side effects.

Meet the Experts

  1. Dr. Phong Tran Cao, DDS of Luminae Cosmetic Dentistry, a UCLA-trained general & cosmetic dentist practicing in Henderson, NV 
  2. Corina Layton, a registered Registered Dental Hygienist currently practicing in Savannah, GA

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Yes, teeth whitening is safe if you follow the instructions carefully and use a professional product. Dr. Cao says, "Whitening your teeth is safe and shouldn’t produce any negative side effects if you use dentist-approved methods."

"Most whitening methods remove stains by bleaching your teeth’s outer enamel—a process considered safe by many dentists, many of whom also whiten their teeth," Dr. Cao adds.

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide products are safe as long as they're used properly. Layton states that these two compounds are two of the most common whiteners.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common household item (you can find it in most first aid kits). It is a natural bleaching agent, antiseptic, and oxidizer. Carbamide peroxide is a water-soluble, white crystalline solid compound. It is made of carbamide, also known as urea, and hydrogen peroxide. 

Layton says, “Patients seem to experience less sensitivity with carbamide peroxide but better results with hydrogen peroxide-based whitening agents.” However, she recommends that patients see their dentist to see what’s best for their mouth and teeth.

Whitening Group

Safest Teeth Whitening Methods

Different teeth whitening methods are available to achieve a brighter smile. Some are safer than others. Their effectiveness also varies from method to method.

However, even if you choose the safest method, you still need to be careful when whitening your teeth. Remember to follow all safety precautions before using any teeth whitening method or product.

Professional In-Office Whitening

Professional teeth whitening takes place at your dentist’s office. They use a peroxide-based whitening agent similar to the one found in LED kits or whitening strips. However, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is much higher.

With this treatment, you'll quickly see results after a single session. The dentist does all the work for you, and you don't have to do anything but sit back and relax.

Since a dentist does professional in-office whitening, it reduces the risk of tooth sensitivity, soft tissue burns or damage, and gum irritation.

Effective on: Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: 20% to 40%

Time: 2 hours per session

Upkeep: Every 6 months to a year

Cost: $262 to $1180

LED Whitening Kits

LED whitening kits have two main components:

  1. A peroxide-based whitening gel containing hydrogen or carbamide peroxide
  2. A whitening gel tray (mouthpiece) with LED lights that accelerates the whitening process

They’re convenient for getting whiter teeth without visiting the dentist’s office. Compared to in-office treatments, LED whitening kits are more affordable.

Many new LED kits require the whitening agent to spend less time on your tooth’s surface. This is key to protecting your tooth enamel and minimizing adverse side effects.

Effective on: Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: 10% to 20%

Time: 10 to 45 minutes per session

Upkeep: A few times a month

Cost: $50 to $300

Teeth Whitening Strips

Whitening strips contain a combination of active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, and fluoride. These strips are applied directly onto your teeth, which makes them an effective option for people who want fast results.

In general, teeth whitening strips are safe to use. However, they can cause tooth sensitivity because you need to leave the strip on longer than LED treatments.

Effective on: Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: 5 to 15%

Time: 30 minutes per session

Upkeep: A few times a month

Cost: $10 to $50

Take-Home Trays

Take-home trays are custom-made plastic trays designed specifically for whitening your teeth at home. Your dentist will create a customized take-home tray based on your unique dental needs.

These trays have whitening gels placed into them. You wear the tray for several hours while sleeping or relaxing. The gel slowly dissolves around your teeth, leaving your teeth whiter and brighter. 

This option is safe in moderation. It's also better to use custom-made trays instead of buying pre-packaged ones to ensure minimal contact of the whitening gel with your gums.

Effective on: Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: 10% to 30% 

Time: 1 to 2 hours per use

Upkeep: A few times a month 

Cost: $300 to $500

Whitening Pens

Whitening pens deliver bleaching agents directly to the surface of your teeth. These pens usually contain hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. It's a safe teeth whitening method if you follow instructions properly.

Teeth whitening pens are convenient because they're small enough to bring anywhere. They're also easy to use, and you can apply them yourself. However, consistent use is necessary to see any noticeable results. 

Effective on: Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: 10% to 30% 

Time: 20 to 30 minutes per use

Upkeep: A few times a week 

Cost: $10 to $25

Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpastes are not as effective as the first five options. Some whitening toothpastes feature polishing or chemical agents that deliver additional stain-removal properties. This method is safe when paired with the right toothbrush and brushing technique.

While whitening toothpastes can help remove teeth stains, they do little to whiten your teeth. Using a whitening toothpaste in addition to one of the other five options above is recommended for optimal whitening effects.

Effective on: Extrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: Up to 5%

Time: 2 minutes a day

Upkeep: Daily or a few times a week

Cost: $3 to $15

Whitening Mouthwash

A whitening mouthwash works by removing stains from your teeth and tongue. It contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Whitening mouthwashes are not as effective as the first five options. 

Whitening mouthwashes are generally safe because they contain low concentrations of peroxide additives. However, you still have to follow proper usage instructions. If you don't, you may experience a burning sensation in your mouth.

Effective on: Extrinsic stains

Peroxide Level: Up to 2%

Time: 30 seconds a day

Upkeep: Daily or a few times a week

Cost: $2 to $10

Unsafe/Ineffective Teeth Whitening Methods

Charcoal

Charcoal is an abrasive product that can damage your teeth. If used incorrectly, charcoal can be dangerous.

While some studies have shown that activated charcoal removes teeth stains, it's not the safest option. 

Acidic Fruits

Acidic fruits like lemons and limes can erode tooth enamel. They can also cause cavities, tooth sensitivity, and other dental problems.

Acidic fruits are not an effective way of whitening teeth. However, you should keep them as part of your diet in moderation due to their nutritional benefits. 

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acid, which can wear away tooth enamel. This leaves your teeth more susceptible to decay and cavities.

While the acid in apple cider vinegar can break down plaque or other substances stuck to the teeth, this method is not recommended.

Baking Soda-Hydrogen Peroxide Paste

Mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide creates an abrasive paste that can damage your teeth. This paste can dissolve your enamel and lead to tooth sensitivity.

Using a baking soda-hydrogen paste can lead to whiter and brighter teeth. However, it's easy to misuse these products and cause teeth damage.

Turmeric and Other Spices

Spices like turmeric can damage your enamel if you apply them directly to your teeth. While these ingredients have several health benefits, it's not recommended for teeth whitening.

In addition, there's no evidence that using these ingredients will make your teeth whiter.

Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is a practice where you swish oil in the mouth. It's been shown to reduce bad breath and improve oral hygiene.

However, oil pulling does not whiten teeth on its own. You need to combine it with another teeth whitening method for optimal results.

Safest At-Home Teeth Whitening Products

Read our in-depth Review of the Best At-Home Teeth Whitening Kits

What Peroxide Level is Safe in At-Home Whitening Kits?

Starting with a whitening treatment that contains 10 to 12 percent hydrogen peroxide (30 to 35 percent carbamide peroxide) is generally considered safe.

Professional teeth whitening treatments are the safest and most effective way to whiten teeth. These methods provide instant results and are completed in a dentist’s office.

However, professional whitening is expensive, making it less desirable. As an alternative, it's recommended to use an at-home whitening kit with a safe peroxide level.

Everyone’s mouth is different, so start at a low peroxide level and work your way up if needed. Adverse effects greatly increase when you misuse a teeth whitening product. Higher concentrations of hydrogen or carbamide peroxide may also cause increased sensitivity.

Potential Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

While most professional teeth whitening methods are generally safe, they can come with risks. Some side effects include:

Tooth Sensitivity

Applying bleach to your teeth can cause tooth sensitivity. You may feel pain when consuming hot or cold foods or drinks. This is because the bleach breaks down the protective layer of the enamel.

Yellow or Gray Spots

When you use bleaching agents, you must apply them properly. Otherwise, you may end up with yellow or gray spots on your teeth. If you notice yellow spots after whitening, stop using the product immediately.

Allergic Reactions

This side effect is quite rare. However, if you’re allergic to adhesives, check the ingredients list thoroughly. You must stop using the product if you experience any symptoms, such as swelling, itching, or redness.

Gum Irritation

Gum irritation can occur if the whitening treatment comes in contact with your gum line. When using at-home teeth whitening kits, be sure to apply the product only to the surface of your teeth.

How to Prevent Teeth Stains

Once you achieve your desired results from teeth whitening, you must prevent further staining. The following tips can help you do just that:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste 
  • Floss regularly and rinse with a mouthwash
  • Avoid food that can stain your teeth, such as coffee, red wine, tea, and soda
  • Rinse your mouth with water after consuming food or drinks that contain acid and/or may stain
  • Avoid smoking since it causes tooth discoloration
  • Visit your dentist at least every six months for a routine cleaning and check-up 

Summary

Teeth whitening is one of the most popular dental procedures performed today. There are various ways to whiten teeth; some are safer than others. Talk to your dentist about options if you want to brighten your smile. They can recommend the best method based on your needs and preferences.

Last updated on December 21, 2022
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on December 21, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  5. Gerlach, R. W., Barker, M. L., McMillan, D. A., Sagel, P. A., & Walden, G. L. "In-use comparative kinetics of professional whitening strips: peroxide recovery from strips, teeth, gingiva, and saliva." Compendium of continuing education in dentistry, 2004.
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