The Best Ways to Whiten Your Teeth

by Janey Osterlind on 28 January 2011 11 comments

We all love the look of gleaming white teeth, right? The reasoning seems to be associated with our deep-seated obsession with physical attractiveness — white teeth equal good hygiene, which contributes to overall appearance. Although that’s not technically the case (using too harsh a chemical too often can damage the enamel), people are still constantly in search of a way to whiten their teeth. Read on to learn more about the best ways to do just that.

The Dentist

A trip to the dentist can whiten your teeth in the quickest time possible, thanks to the application of a high-concentration peroxide gel by your dentist or dental technician. Some in-office procedures involve follow-up appointments for patients with especially persistent stains, or they may involve follow-up with whitening trays for home use.

Traditionally, in-office whitening is the most expensive route to go. Many dentist’s offices offer free teeth whitening with a new patient exam, however, which can actually make this the most economical route if you are in search of a new dentist anyway. Some dentists offer free or discounted whitening as a reward for referring other new patients to the practice. Just be sure to read the fine print, and make sure you understand what your insurance will cover before scheduling that new-patient exam. (See also: Will a Dental Discount Plan Save You Money?)

Also note that over-the-counter whitening kits work best when used soon after your regularly scheduled teeth cleanings.

Over-the-Counter Kits

OTC teeth-whitening products are significantly less expensive than whitening procedures at your friendly neighborhood dentist. They’re also more convenient because you can do other activities while wearing whitening strips, trays, or gel.

At-home whitening products are not as strong as those at the dentist’s office, which means teeth will be less white. In a dentist’s office, your teeth would generally be whitened with a hydrogen peroxide formula, while at-home kits usually contain carbamide peroxide. The benefit to this, however, is that the average consumer who follows directions would be less likely to over-whiten or damage her teeth. OTC kits are also more likely to make your teeth and gums sensitive with use.

Two good resources for evaluating which OTC kit might be right for you include Good Housekeeping's Research Institute, which ranked the top four OTC teeth whitening kits, and ConsumerSearch (owned by About.com), which ranks the top-rated products based on expert and user reviews.

Whitening Rinses & Toothpastes

Both whitening mouth rinses and whitening toothpastes are inexpensive and easy to use. Whitening rinses generally contain a relatively small concentration of hydrogen peroxide and can take up to 12 weeks to produce results. Whitening toothpaste, on the other hand, works by removing surface stains only.

Many people report seeing little to no change from whitening rinses and toothpastes. If you regularly drink coffee, tea, or red wine, though, these options could be good investments to maintain white teeth after using another whitening method.

Do-It-Yourself Methods

If visiting the dentist or paying for an OTC kit don’t sound attractive (or are out of your budget right now), there are DIY ways to whiten your teeth. The mixtures I’ve seen involve mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide (a 2:3 proportion). However, you should be very cautious if attempting a DIY whitening job. Too much hydrogen peroxide and you could over-whiten your teeth or damage the enamel. For this reason, I might choose to forgo a completely DIY method for an ADA-approved whitening product.

What are your thoughts on the best way to get sparkling teeth on a budget? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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Guest's picture
Radu

I also recommend the King Fisher toothpaste

Janey Osterlind's picture

Thanks for the recommendation! I personally use the OTC kits once every year to 18 months, and a whitening toothpaste in between. I was looking for a good one - I'll definitely give that a try.

Guest's picture

One important word of caution for any of these methods, straight from "the horses (as in the dentist's) mouth." If you have any kind of cosmetic dental work like bondings, crowns, or veneers, you do NOT want to whiten. The synthetic materials will not whiten, but your real teeth will...causing a mismatch.

Janey Osterlind's picture

Excellent point, Stephanie. Thanks very much for pointing that out for readers!

Guest's picture

Love this article! I've been whitening my teeth for years and it really can be expensive! I stopped the dentist trips and did it myself at home with stripes and mouthwash/toothpaste! The results were basically the same and I saved not only money but a lot of time. You don't have to have your teeth professionally whitened in order to have perfect pearls!

Guest's picture
Andrew

Colgate just came out with a whitening toothpaste that actually tastes like the whitening stuff you get from the dentist. I used it for 2 weeks and had noticeably whiter teeth.

Guest's picture

Great tips. I was just thinking about whitening again today, wondering whether I'd do the dentist or home route. I think I'll start w/ the home one for now, based on this (avoiding the DIY route...I'm just $%#! this up....).

Guest's picture
Colin

If you have sensitive teeth, Crest do a range of teeth whitening strips which affect your teeth less than the gels that dentists use

Guest's picture
Guest

I like to get mine bleached. I suck at routine morning things like the strips and such. Any evidence on it hurting enamel?

-Amir

Guest's picture
Rowan

so i have pictures to take tomorrow (i just found out!) and i have naturally yellowish teeth does anyone have an idea for a method i can use tonight that may help my teeth look whiter tomorrow morning (i know about wearing darker lipstick but i dont wear lipstick) any ideas? and later this month i have pictures to take and a wedding to go to that i want my teeth to be whiter for....? also, i have naturally sensative teeth (sensitive to cold drinks and really hot drinks/foods) and i have had braces and may need them again if that makes a difference.... any ideas? thanks!

Guest's picture
Sarah

In most cases taking good care of your teeth and getting your dentist to do a deep cleaning about twice a year is enough to keep your teeth nice and white. Specialized teeth whitening systems are only necessary if your teeth are heavily stained.