Whitening Toothpaste Facts & Recommendations

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Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Michael Bayba
Written by
Michael Bayba
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Evidence Based
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20 sources cited
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Does Whitening Toothpaste Actually Work?

Many people are unhappy with the color of their teeth. This has led to a massive influx of cosmetic teeth bleaching products, including whitening toothpastes. In any given store, you’ll find several different options, all of them boasting whitening capabilities.

But does whitening toothpaste actually help whiten your teeth?

Best Peroxide ToothpasteColgate Optic White Toothpaste

Best Silica (Abrasive) Toothpaste Tom's of Maine Simply White Toothpaste

Best For Sensitive Teeth Crest Pro-Health Gum and Sensitivity Toothpaste

The short answer: yes, but only a little.

Whitening toothpastes have been scientifically proven to improve the color of your teeth slightly.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 However, they are only effective at removing surface stains (extrinsic staining).


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).

Discover the top 10 teeth whitening products available today.


Extrinsic stains are caused by foreign substances coming in contact with the enamel (outer surface) of your teeth. Common causes of surface stains include:

  • Foods and drinks that are high in sugars, simple carbohydrates, or acids (soda, candy, tomato sauce, etc.)
  • Foods and drinks that are dark-colored and contain tannins or pigmentation (coffee, red wine, beets, etc.)
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Plaque build-up (this gives substances a sticky surface to attach to)

Some whitening toothpastes can remove surface stains. However, no whitening toothpaste can change your enamel color or lighten a stain that occurs within your tooth (intrinsic staining).

Whitening toothpaste is best used as one part of a teeth whitening regimen. It can also be used as a preventative measure once you have achieved your desired tooth color. However, whitening LED kits and teeth whitening strips are much more effective at improving the color of your teeth at home.7

How Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?

There are three main techniques that whitening toothpastes use to whiten teeth:

Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is the safest and most effective teeth whitening agent.8, 9, 10 It is a natural bleaching agent used in the majority of professional and at-home whitening treatments. Peroxide toothpaste can help to remove and prevent surface stains. However, it is not as effective as peroxide-based professional whitening treatments, LED kits, or teeth whitening strips.  

Abrasives

Many whitening toothpastes contain abrasive materials. There are a variety of ingredients used, all with different levels of abrasiveness. Some ingredients that are used include: pro-arginine and calcium carbonate, strontium acetate, stannous fluoride, zinc carbonate and hydroxyapatite, new silica, and tetrapotassium pyrophosphate and hydroxyapatite.11 

If a material is too abrasive it can cause damage to your tooth enamel or gum irritation. However, most modern whitening toothpastes that contain abrasives are proven to be effective at removing surface stains and maintaining the quality of your enamel.5

Blue covarine

Some whitening toothpastes contain a pigment called blue covarine. This substance coats your enamel with a thin, semi-transparent layer of blue pigment. The film interacts with light and is intended to make your teeth appear whiter. However, blue covarine has not been shown to be more effective at helping your teeth appear whiter than other whitening toothpaste.3, 12

Baking soda

Peroxides and abrasives are the best whitening ingredients in toothpastes. Baking soda has also been proven lightly lift surface stains.14 However, adding hydrogen peroxide to baking soda significantly increases the effectiveness of baking soda.15, 16

In order to make sure your toothpaste is safe and effective, use one with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.

What Whitening Agents DON’T Work in Toothpastes?

Hydrogen peroxide and abrasives are the most effective ingredients in whitening toothpastes, so stick to those. There are several ingredients that claim to whiten your teeth, but have no scientific evidence to support their claim.

Charcoal

Activated charcoal, or carbon, has received mixed results in scientific studies. It has not definitively been proven to whiten teeth. And the whitening results it has shown may be the result of charcoal abrasively removing enamel on your teeth. This can actually cause your teeth to turn yellow by exposing the yellowish dentin underneath. 


NewMouth recommends LED teeth whitening systems to achieve a brighter smile. They are affordable, easy to use, produce minimal side effects, and highly effective.

View our review of the best teeth whitening products.


Dentists and researchers agree that charcoal is not a safe and reliable method of whitening your teeth. In fact, it has the potential to cause enamel and gum damage.13, 14, 18

Turmeric

Turmeric is another ingredient that is gaining traction on social media and blogs. However, it has been shown to have little to no whitening effect on your teeth.19 In fact, turmeric is a natural abrasive and can weaken tooth enamel to look less white.

Coconut, peppermint, and other oils

Coconut and peppermint oils are the most popular oils used in “natural” products. However, there is little to no scientific research to support the effectiveness of these oils.20 There has been some research done into coconut oil and the practice of “oil pulling.” According to the ADA:

“There is an absence of documented tooth whitening derived from oil pulling, it is worth noting that adverse events ranging from lipoid pneumonia to upset stomach and diarrhea have been reported.” 

The American Dental Association

How to Use Whitening Toothpastes for a Brighter Smile

Brushing with a whitening toothpaste twice a day is an effective way to remove surface stains from your teeth in two to six weeks. They can also prevent new stains from forming. If the only discoloration you have on your teeth is extrinsic, whitening toothpaste may be an effective solution. 

However, if the color of your enamel has changed, or you have intrinsic staining, whitening toothpastes will not work. You’ll need to use one of these three options:

Using a whitening toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, along with another peroxide-based treatment is the best way to achieve a pearly white smile.

3 Best Whitening Toothpastes of 2021

These products all have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Colgate Optic White Toothpaste

Colgate Optic White Toothpaste

This whitening toothpaste claims you’ll have noticeably whiter teeth after just three days of consistent use. It can also lighten teeth up to four shades after brushing twice daily for four weeks.

The product contains 2 percent hydrogen peroxide, which dentists recommend for whitening. Colgate’s hydrogen peroxide formula is patented and provides long-lasting cooling to keep your breath fresh longer. 

The enamel-safe teeth whitening formula is also safe for daily use and contains fluoride to protect against cavities. 

Tom's of Maine Natural Simply

Tom's of Maine Simply White Toothpaste

Tom’s of Maine uses naturally derived silicas to remove surface stains without using bleaching chemicals. This natural toothpaste contains no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and is not tested on animals.

It also contains sodium fluoride to help prevent cavities.

Crest Pro Health Gum and Sensitivity

Crest Pro-Health Gum and Sensitivity Toothpaste

Crest Pro-Health Gum and Sensitivity Toothpaste contains Stannous Fluoride to treat sensitivity that starts at your gum line. The foaming effect helps get the toothpaste in hard to reach areas between your teeth. 

This product will help reduce sensitivity, and the silicas will help to gently lift stains. Do not use this product for sensitivity reduction for more than four weeks unless directed by a dentist.

Takeaways

  • Teeth whitening toothpaste is an effective way at lifting surface stains
  • Whitening toothpastes cannot change the color of your teeth or remove intrinsic stains
  • Hydrogen peroxide and abrasives are the best ingredients in whitening toothpastes
  • Charcoal has not been proven to be effective at whitening teeth, in fact it could potentially damage your mouth
  • Turmeric, coconut oil, peppermint oil, and other holistic ingredients have no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness
  • If you have intrinsic staining, using an LED whitening kit, teeth whitening strips, or getting professional in-office whitening treatment will help you achieve a brighter smile
  • Whitening toothpaste is also a way to prevent new stains from forming on your teeth.
  • Only use whitening toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance to ensure safety and effectiveness

Resources

(1) Sharif, N, et al. “The Chemical Stain Removal Properties of 'Whitening' Toothpaste Products: Studies in Vitro.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 10 June 2000. 

(2) Torres, CRG, et al. “Efficacy of Mouth Rinses and Toothpaste on Tooth Whitening.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Jan. 2013. 

(3) Vaz, Vanessa Torraca Peraro, et al. “Whitening Toothpaste Containing Activated Charcoal, Blue Covarine, Hydrogen Peroxide or Microbeads: Which One Is the Most Effective?Journal of Applied Oral Science, Faculdade De Odontologia De Bauru - USP, 14 Jan. 2019.

(4) Moran, J, et al. “Clinical Studies to Determine the Effectiveness of a Whitening Toothpaste at Reducing Stain (Using a Forced Stain Model).” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 10 Jan. 2005. 

(5) Roselino, Lourenço de Moraes Rego, et al. “Randomized Clinical Study of Alterations in the Color and Surface Roughness of Dental Enamel Brushed with Whitening Toothpaste.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 30 Mar. 2018. 

(6) Joiner, A., et al. “Whitening Toothpastes: Effects on Tooth Stain and Enamel.” International Dental Journal, Elsevier, 7 Dec. 2020. 

(7) Meireles, Sônia Saeger, et al. “Efficacy of Whitening Toothpaste Containing Blue Covarine: A Double‐Blind Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons. 

(8) Zekonis, Ruta, et al. “Clinical Evaluation of in-Office and at-Home Bleaching Treatments.” Operative Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2003.

(9) 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.

(10) Mokhlis, G R, et al. “A Clinical Evaluation of Carbamide Peroxide and Hydrogen Peroxide Whitening Agents during Daytime Use.” Journal of the American Dental Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2000.

(11) Arnold, W H, et al. “Dentin Abrasivity of Various Desensitizing Toothpastes.” Head & Face Medicine, BioMed Central, 2 Apr. 2016.

(12) Dantas, Andréa Abi Rached, et al. “Can a Bleaching Toothpaste Containing Blue Covarine Demonstrate the Same Bleaching as Conventional Techniques? An in Vitro, Randomized and Blinded Study.” Journal of Applied Oral Science : Revista FOB, Faculdade De Odontologia De Bauru Da Universidade De São Paulo, 2015. 

(13) Thakur, Abhilasha, et al. “Charcoal in Dentistry.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27 Mar. 2020, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781119618973.ch13. 

(14) Brooks, John K., et al. “Charcoal and Charcoal-Based Dentifrices: A Literature Review.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, Elsevier, 7 June 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817717304129. 

(15) Li, Yiming. “Stain Removal and Whitening by Baking Soda Dentifrice: A Review of Literature.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, Elsevier, 19 Oct. 2017.

(16) Ghassemi, A, et al. “Effectiveness of a New Dentifrice with Baking Soda and Peroxide in Removing Extrinsic Stain and Whitening Teeth.” Europe PMC, The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 1 Jan. 2012.

(17) Kleber, CJ, et al. “In Vitro Tooth Whitening by a Sodium Bicarbonate/Peroxide Dentifrice.” Europe PMC, The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 1 Jan. 1998. 

(18) Brooks, John, et al. “Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, 1 Sept 2017, jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30412-9/fulltext.

(19) Abidia, Randa, et al. “Efficacy of Tooth Whitening Using Natural Products in Vitro.” The Saudi Dental Journal, Elsevier, 21 Feb. 2019. 

(20) “Whitening.” American Dental Association, www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/whitening.

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