Tooth discoloration is a normal part of life, and your teeth can stain for a variety of reasons.
For example, most stains are caused by foods and drinks like coffee, tea, red wine, dark berries, and tomato sauce. Poor oral hygiene and tobacco products can also lead to staining. These stains are typically shallow and can be removed with over-the-counter or professional teeth whitening products.
Natural aging, certain medications like tetracycline, and tooth defects/injuries can cause tooth discoloration. However, these stains are less common and more difficult to remove. They usually require invasive whitening treatment at a dental office.
To remove surface stains, you can purchase teeth whitening gel over-the-counter or from your dentist. These products usually contain an active peroxide-based ingredient that is used to lighten tooth discoloration and brighten your smile.
At-home teeth whitening kits can give you the same results as professional whitening treatment in less than two weeks. (Be sure to follow instructions carefully).
Teeth whitening gel can be found in many products, including over-the-counter whitening strips, whitening trays, and LED whitening kits. It is not recommended to use whitening gel on its own because the process can be messy. Using a pre-filled tray (or whitening strips) is the easiest and most effective way to whiten your teeth at home.
Yes, teeth whitening gels are effective if they contain an active ingredient like hydrogen or carbamide peroxide.1, 2, 3
Both hydrogen and carbamide peroxide gels produce similar whitening results. How quickly you’ll see results depends on the amount used. For example:
Professional whitening gel treatments must be carried out by a licensed dentist. Your dentist may use the gel in combination with an LED light to speed up the results. In general, professional whitening gels are more effective than over-the-counter gels in terms of speed and degree of whitening achieved.1, 3, 5
You’ll need to use at-home whitening gels more frequently to maintain brightness. Professional whitening only needs to be retouched every six months to a year. Note: in-office whitening is much more expensive than at-home whitening.
If you follow the directions carefully, at-home teeth whitening gels are safe to use. Hydrogen peroxide has been used for decades to effectively brighten teeth.2
The main safety concern regarding whitening products is the misconception that they contain bleach. Most over-the-counter whitening products do include a bleaching gel. However, this does not mean that they contain real bleach. The term ‘bleach' is used to describe the chemical process for stain removal (oxidation of the stain molecules on your teeth).
The main downside of peroxide is that it can cause tooth sensitivity. This side effect is generally mild and does not increase your risk of oral health issues. In rarer cases, you may experience gum irritation.4, 5
Do not overuse whitening gels or leave the products on your teeth for longer than recommended. This can cause enamel erosion (worn down teeth) and other dental problems.5
Many teeth whitening products now contain added ingredients that can help decrease tooth sensitivity and discomfort. Amorphous calcium phosphate and potassium nitrate are two common ingredients that have been shown to reduce sensitive teeth.6
Teeth whitening gels can be used in many different ways. For example, you can apply the gel directly to your teeth using a syringe or place pre-filled trays in your mouth. You can also apply whitening strips, which will stick firmly to your teeth throughout the treatment process.
At-home whitening gels are typically left on for 10 to 30 minutes. Be careful not to swallow the gel. After the time is up, gently remove the gel from your teeth using a cloth or soft toothbrush. Then rinse your mouth well. Do not eat or drink anything for 30 minutes after the treatment is complete.
For more effective whitening, professional (in-office) treatment may be the best option. During this session, your dentist will apply a quick-acting whitening gel to your teeth. They may or may not use a pre-filled tray and an LED light to speed up the process.
In-office whitening takes about one hour. You’ll only need retouches every six months to a year, depending on your needs. Keep in mind that these treatments can cost a couple hundred dollars.
At-home whitening treatments are less expensive, and typically cost up to $200. Although cheaper, they require more upkeep than in-office whitening.
Do not use whitening products if you have thin or worn down enamel, untreated cavities, braces, exposed tooth roots, gum disease, or other oral health conditions. Also, do not use them if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant or nursing.
Whitening gels are safe to use on crowns, veneers, fillings, and other dental restorations. But they will not whiten like your natural teeth.
There are many ways to lighten your teeth with whitening gel. Depending on your needs, budget, and level of discoloration, common at-home teeth whiteners include:
Most strips are made of a flexible plastic substance that is coated with a thin layer of bleaching gel. This gel is typically made of hydrogen or carbamide peroxide.
NewMouth recommends LED teeth whitening systems to achieve a brighter smile. They are affordable, easy to use, produce minimal side effects, and highly effective.
The strips are held in place by the plastic coating and gel. You’ll leave them on for about 30 minutes.
Whitening strips cost up to $50 for 14 or more treatments, making them one of the most affordable options available.
LED whitening systems include teeth whitening gel and a special light that is used to speed up the bleaching process. LED lights can reduce treatment time and sensitivity by up to 53 percent compared to using the gel on its own.7
Although LED whitening kits can brighten your teeth quickly and effectively, they are more expensive and time-consuming to use (up to $200 per kit).
Three of the best LED whitening kits available for online purchase include Snow, GLO, and AuraGlow.
Teeth whitening pens are perfect for on-the-go whitening. Simply twist the pen, brush the gel onto your teeth, and whiten your smile within a few minutes.
(1) Eimar, Hazem, et al. “Hydrogen Peroxide Whitens Teeth by Oxidizing the Organic Structure.” Journal of Dentistry, Elsevier, 24 Aug. 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22925924/.
(2) Heymann, H O. “Tooth Whitening: Facts and Fallacies.” Nature News, British Dental Journal, 23 Apr. 2005. https://www.nature.com/articles/4812298.
(3) Basting, RT, et al. “Clinical Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of and Tooth Sensitivity to 10% and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Home-Use and 35% and 38% Hydrogen Peroxide In-Office Bleaching Materials Containing Desensitizing Agents.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Sept. 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22616927/.
(4) Cvikl, B, et al. “Enamel Surface Changes After Exposure to Bleaching Gels Containing Carbamide Peroxide or Hydrogen Peroxide.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Jan. 2016. https://meridian.allenpress.com/operative-dentistry/article/41/1/E39/107779/Enamel-Surface-Changes-After-Exposure-to-Bleaching.
(5) Fiorillo, Luca, et al. “Dental Whitening Gels: Strengths and Weaknesses of an Increasingly Used Method.” Gels (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 4 July 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6787621/.
(6) Nanjundasetty, Jyothi Kashi, and Mohammed Ashrafulla. “Efficacy of Desensitizing Agents on Postoperative Sensitivity Following an in-Office Vital Tooth Bleaching: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.” Journal of Conservative Dentistry : JCD, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872572/.
(7) Bortolatto, Janaina F, et al. “Effects of LED–Laser Hybrid Light on Bleaching Effectiveness and Tooth Sensitivity: a Randomized Clinical Study.” Laser Physics Letters, vol. 10, no. 8, 2013, p. 085601, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1612-2011/10/8/085601.