Does at-home teeth whitening really work? Experts explain. (2024)

You’re doing everything right: brushing your teeth twice a day for the recommended two minutes, flossing, using mouthwash and scrubbing your tongue. And yet, you might still be searching for solutions to achieve whiter teeth and a brighter smile.

Teeth whitening services are available at many dentist offices, but they can be expensive and time consuming. Professional treatments typically cost over $200 and appointments can last 90 minutes or longer. Thankfully, however, many oral care brands offer more cost-effective, over-the-counter teeth whitening products you can use at home. They aren’t as strong as in-office treatments, experts say, but they can tackle minor discoloration if used correctly and consistently. Below, we talked to dentists about what you can expect from at-home teeth whitening products and how to shop for them.

SKIP AHEAD Best at-home teeth whitening products

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How we picked the best at-home teeth whitening treatments

Everyone’s teeth are different, so finding a whitening treatment that works for you will likely involve some trial and error, says Dr. Ilona Casellini, the founder of and a dentist at Swiss Quality Smile in Los Angeles, California. Pay attention to how your teeth react to different products, specifically noting which ones lighten tooth color the best with the least amount of sensitivity.

While shopping for at-home teeth whitening treatments, experts recommend considering the following factors.

  • Active ingredients: Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the most common whitening agents products rely on to get rid of tooth stains, according to the ADA. These active ingredients penetrate tooth enamel and break down discoloration without softening or thinning teeth, experts say.
  • Strength: Every teeth whitening product is made with a certain percentage of active ingredients, and the higher that percentage is, the stronger its whitening capabilities are. But the most powerful whitener may not be the best option for you, says Dr. Matt Messina, an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry and the clinic director at Ohio State’s Upper Arlington Dentistry. If you’ve never whitened your teeth before or have a history of tooth sensitivity, he recommends starting with products that contain lower concentrations of active whitening ingredients and gradually increasing if you can tolerate it.
  • Product type: At-home teeth whitening treatments are available as toothpastes, whitening pens, whitening trays, mouthwashes and more. Think about which you prefer and which best fits into your lifestyle. How effective at-home teeth whitening products are greatly depends on using them consistently, so choose a product you can see yourself sticking with, says Casellini.
  • ADA Seal of Acceptance: The ADA Seal of Acceptance is the “gold standard” for oral care products, experts told us. When you see that seal, it means the brand submitted data and other materials to the ADA and the organization determined that the product meets specified safety and efficacy requirements. This does not mean that whitening products without the ADA Seal are ineffective — it just means brands have not submitted their products for the ADA to review.
The best at-home teeth whitening products of 2024

With expert guidance in mind, we rounded up a handful of at-home teeth whitening products across type and price point. We included options with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, those NBC Select staff members have tried themselves, Select Wellness Award Winners and other highly-rated treatments we think you should know about.

Best teeth whitening strips and trays

Whitening strips are typically coated with a thin layer of hydrogen peroxide or another bleaching agent, and they come in kits with multiple strips for the upper and lower teeth. As directed by the brand, you use the strips for a few days in a row for a set amount of time to gradually whiten your teeth.

Teeth whitening trays are similar to whitening strips — they adhere to teeth and whiten using active ingredients while you wear them. Some trays come prefilled, and others need to be filled with a whitening agent before you use them. Dental offices also sometimes make custom trays that fit the exact shape of your mouth to use with whitening gel.

Crest 3D Whitestrips Classic Vivid

ThisNBC Select Wellness Awardwinner from Crest is currently the only ADA-approved whitening strip. The Classic Vivid strips come in a pack of 20, which is enough for 10 treatments. Strips are made with hydrogen peroxide and have a no-slip grip that helps them stick to teeth. Crest also offers other types of whitestrips including Brilliance White, Glamorous White and Sensitive, all of which are ADA-approved.

Lumineux Teeth Whitening Strips

If you have sensitive teeth, I recommend Lumineux’s whitening strips since they don’t contain peroxides or bleaches that can be painful for those with sensitive teeth, according to the brand. The strips are made with coconut oil, sage oil, lemon peel oil and dead sea salt, natural ingredients that help lift stains off teeth, according to Lumineux. One box contains 42 teeth whitening strips, which is enough for 21 treatments. I notice a difference in the shade of my teeth when I use these whitening strips as directed for 30 minutes a day and I frequently repurchase them.

Opalescence Go Teeth Whitening Trays

Opalescence Go Teeth Whitening Trays — which have a 4.5-star average rating from 1,296 reviews on Amazon — come prefilled with a minty gel that contains 10% hydrogen peroxide. The trays are single-use and flexible, allowing them to conform to your teeth and the shape of your mouth, according to the brand. Treatments last 30 to 60 minutes.

Best teeth whitening toothpastes

Whitening toothpaste primarily relies on abrasives to help remove surface stains on teeth, according to the ADA. All toothpaste is mildly abrasive to scrub teeth clean, but whitening toothpaste typically contains ingredients that specifically target surface stains, like sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda.

Whitening toothpaste is a great option to start with if you’ve never used other teeth whitening products since it typically has a lower concentration of active ingredients, experts told us. It typically works best for surface stains and maintenance after you’ve used another form of whitening, says Messina.

Nu Skin AP 24 Toothpaste

Nu Skin’s AP 24 Toothpaste, an NBC Select Wellness Award winner, is formulated with gentle abrasives to remove surface stains from teeth and brighten their appearance, according to the brand. The fluoridated toothpaste comes in a 4-ounce tube and has a neutral vanilla mint flavor. I tried Nu Skin’s toothpaste and prefer its thicker, smoother texture to most thinner, gel-like options. Plus, it doesn’t irritate my sometimes sensitive teeth.

Burt’s Bees Whitening Toothpaste

This ADA-approved whitening toothpaste from Burt’s Bees is formulated with hydrated silica to help remove surface stains from teeth, according to the brand. The toothpaste has a minty flavor and comes in a 4.7-ounce tube.

Best teeth whitening mouthwash

Like whitening toothpaste, whitening mouthwash typically has a lower concentration of whitening agents, so its impact is minimal, experts told us. With that being said, whitening mouthwash can be a good option to use after a professional whitening treatment or if you’ve never whitened your teeth at home before.

ACT Whitening + Anticavity Fluoride Mouthrinse

ACT’s Whitening + Anticavity mouthwash contains hydrogen peroxide to brighten teeth and fluoride to help prevent cavities, according to the brand. The mouthwash is alcohol-free and dye-free, has a mint flavor and comes in a 16.9-fluid-ounce bottle. It has a 4.5-star average rating from 6,061 reviews on Amazon.

LED teeth whitening treatments

Some teeth whitening kits come with devices (kind of like mouth guards) that have built-in LED lights, which help activate the included whitening gel, experts told us. You add the whitening gel to the device or directly to your teeth, and wear it for a set amount of time. Once you own the LED light device, you can buy refills of the brand’s gel to continuously reuse it.

Colgate Optic White ComfortFit LED Whitening Kit

This kit comes with a flexible LED whitening light that molds to the shape of your teeth, providing uniform coverage, according to the brand. It’s powered by your phone — you plug the device’s cable into an Apple or Android smartphone, and you can continue to use your phone during 10 minute treatments. The kit comes with a whitening pen filled with hydrogen peroxide gel that you brush over your teeth before using the light. Colgate recommends using the kit once a day for 10 days to see the best results. When I used the kit as directed, my teeth looked noticeably brighter.

Auraglow Teeth Whitening Kit with LED Accelerator Light

If you’d rather use a rechargeable, wireless whitening light, Auraglow’s kit comes with a battery-powered tray that has built-in LED lights to help activate the included carbamide peroxide whitening gel. You squeeze the gel into the tray before placing it in your mouth and turning the device on to start a 30 minute treatment. The light — which has a 4.1-star average rating from 45,123 reviews on Amazon — comes with a charging case and cable.

Best teeth whitening pens

If you’re looking for a portable teeth whitening option that you can travel with, many brands offer pens filled with a gel formula of whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. To use a whitening pen, you brush the gel on your teeth, leave it on for the specified amount of time and repeat as directed.

Colgate Optic White Express Teeth Whitening Pen

Beyond its whitening strips, Colgate offers a whitening pen filled with hydrogen peroxide gel. You use the applicator tip to brush the gel over clean teeth and leave it on overnight. Each pen can be used up to 35 times and the whitening gel is safe for those with sensitive teeth, according to the brand.

Frequently asked questions

Tooth stains can occur on the interior and exterior of teeth. Those inside the teeth can result from aging or some genetic disorders, while exterior surface stains are usually associated with tobacco use and the consumption of pigmented food and drinks like coffee, red wine and dark fruits, says Casellini.

Whitening products tackle tooth discoloration differently depending on whether they’re targeting interior or exterior stains, but most rely in part on bleaching agents like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. During treatments, these active ingredients penetrate enamel, seep into interior tooth tissues and lighten tooth color from the inside out, according to the ADA.

One of the biggest differences between teeth whiteners is the concentration of the active ingredients they’re formulated with, experts told us. The higher the concentration of the active ingredient and the longer it’s left on the teeth, the more effective the whitener typically is. But with higher concentrations of active ingredients comes concerns like tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. That’s why dentists are able to use whiteners with higher concentrations of active ingredients in their offices — professionals know how to whiten teeth based on your sensitivity level while protecting other parts of your mouth.

Whitening products that target interior stains often have a higher concentration of active ingredients since a chemical reaction is required to reach deeper inside the teeth. Those that target exterior discoloration usually have a lower concentration of active ingredients and rely on mechanical interventions like brushing with a whitening toothpaste to scrub stains off the enamel surface, thus dulling their appearance.

Teeth whitening is not for everyone. People who are unhappy with the color of their teeth or want to match their natural teeth to a crown or bridge are the best candidates for whitening, says Casellini. On the other hand, people who have prosthetics like crowns, bridges or veneers that already match the color of and are located very close to their natural teeth should not whiten them. Doing so can result in mismatched tooth colors since the natural teeth will get lighter and the prosthetics will stay the same, she says.

In-office whitening treatments are the most effective option since they’re formulated with higher concentrations of active ingredients, experts told us. This is especially the case if you have discoloration from oral issues like cavities and tooth decay, which may make teeth turn a dark gray color that won’t go away with at-home whitening, says Messina. The same goes for other oral problems like plaque build-up or gum irritation.

With that being said, at-home teeth whitening treatments can help correct more surface-level tooth discoloration. However, it’s crucial that you use whitening products consistently. “Most people are not compliant at home and therefore do not get the results they are looking for,” says Casellini. “In-office bleaching is more effective because you get instant gratification. In one session, patients usually get one to two shades lighter and all they have to do is relax while the dentist does the work.”

Teeth whitening is safe overall. However, experts say it's important to talk to your dentist before starting a whitening treatment at home to make sure it’s a viable path for you, especially if you’ve experienced tooth or gum sensitivity in the past. If you can’t handle a higher concentration of whitening agents, your dentist can help you find a product that works best.

While whitening your teeth at home, pay attention to how you feel, especially if you’re trying something new. If at any point you notice sensitivity on your teeth or gums while using at-home whitening products, stop using the whitening product immediately and contact your dentist.

One way to ensure you’re whitening your teeth safely is to follow the product’s directions. “If it says 30 minutes, an hour isn’t better,” says Messina. “It may instead dramatically increase your tooth sensitivity, making it hard to handle cold things like ice cream or even water.”

Whether it’s dental care, skin care or hair care, anything used in excess can potentially cause damage. As far as at-home teeth whitening treatments, prolonged, continuous and incorrect use of bleaching products can be potentially harmful over time, says Casellini. “Even though at home bleaching products usually have a lower concentration of peroxide, if used excessively, it can cause your teeth to become dehydrated and brittle, not to mention overly sensitive,” she says. To prevent damage, follow a product’s directions exactly and limit how often you use at-home whitening products. Also be sure you follow a standard oral care routine that involves proper tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and mouthwash.

Beware of beauty fads and do-it-yourself approaches to teeth whitening, experts told us. They have not been studied as extensively as professional treatments or over-the-counter options, and can have negative side effects like reducing teeth hardness or increasing sensitivity, according to the ADA. A common example is using charcoal toothpaste — the abrasiveness of the ingredients can remove the enamel from your teeth overtime, which Messina compares to sanding a floor. Other common DIY teeth whitening treatments include making pastes out of acidic fruits, vinegar and baking soda, as well as oil pulling, which involves swishing coconut oil in the mouth — these practices are not well-researched and are recommended against by the ADA and our experts.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Matt Messina is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry and the clinic director of Ohio State’s Upper Arlington Dentistry.
  • Dr. Ilona Casellini is the founder of and a dentist at Swiss Quality Smile in Los Angeles, California.
Why trust NBC Select?

Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at NBC Select who writes about dental care, including stories on electric toothbrushes, toothpaste, whitening toothpaste, kid’s toothpaste, floss and water flossers. For this article, she interviewed two experts about how to shop for at-home teeth whitening treatments and rounded up products that align with their guidance.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

Zoe Malin

Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor for Select on NBC News.

Hanna Horvath

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Nicole Saunders

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Does at-home teeth whitening really work? Experts explain. (2024)

FAQs

Does at-home teeth whitening really work? Experts explain.? ›

Professional Teeth Whitening Provides Faster Long-Lasting Results. While at-home kits can take weeks or even months to show noticeable results, professional treatments tend to produce faster. Dentists utilize advanced techniques like laser or light-activated whitening that significantly speed up the whitening process.

Is there a home teeth whitening that really works? ›

Known as the No. 1 dentist-recommended at-home teeth-whitening product, you can't go wrong with Crest 3D Whitestrips. They're formulated with the same hydrogen-peroxide whitening ingredient that dentists use, which will help enhance your smile after a recommended ten days of use.

Does anything really whiten teeth? ›

Tooth whitening is most often done using peroxide-based bleaching agents. At-home systems contain from 3% to 20% peroxide (carbamide or hydrogen peroxides). In-office systems contain from 15% to 43% peroxide. Generally, the stronger the solution and the longer you keep it on your teeth, the whiter your teeth become.

How effective are home teeth whitening kits? ›

Some home kits don't contain enough whitening product to be effective. Also, if a dental professional isn't doing the whitening, the mouthguard provided may not fit properly so some of the bleaching gel may leak out onto your gums and into your mouth, causing blistering and sensitivity.

Can you effectively whiten teeth at home? ›

For optimal whitening, a person can try brushing with a mix of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide for 1–2 minutes twice a day for a week. They should only do this occasionally. Hydrogen peroxide may increase tooth sensitivity, so it is not suitable for long-term use or for people who already have sensitive teeth.

What is the best proven way to whiten teeth? ›

The most effective treatment you can receive through your dentist is Zoom! laser teeth whitening treatment. While this procedure is not the cheapest fix for yellowing, it is the most effective, quickest, and long-lasting procedure. If you are looking for the best brightening solution, Zoom! is it!

Can yellow teeth become white again? ›

Yellow teeth can be completely whitened with teeth whitening technologies at the dentist or at home. Depending on the status of your yellow teeth as well as your needs, the doctor will advise and prescribe the appropriate method.

What whitens teeth really fast? ›

In-office whitening procedures like Zoom Advanced Power whitening can see immediate results because dentists use a 35% solution of hydrogen peroxide in conjunction with a "light source directly on the teeth to break up all the molecules that cause staining and discoloration," he explains.

Does Vicks whiten teeth? ›

KTVB.COM on X: "Vicks VapoRub is toxic to consume and should not be used for teeth whitening https://t.co/1qBp0FuIFS" / X.

How do people get their teeth so white? ›

The most common approach dentists use for brightening teeth is professional teeth whitening. It entails bleaching teeth enamel to remove surface and intrinsic stains.

How to whiten teeth over 60? ›

Whitening yellowing teeth can be achieved through the use of bleaching trays or whitening toothpaste. Most whitening toothpaste brands have low-concentration bleach in them. This approach can work but takes an extended period of time to show a change in the color of your teeth.

Is it better to whiten your teeth at the dentist or DIY? ›

Although at-home teeth whitening kits can take longer to obtain results compared to the immediate whitening effects of in-practice teeth whitening, the at-home method is very convenient and simply involves wearing your whitening trays for a few hours during the day or overnight.

What is the best over-the-counter teeth whitening? ›

  • Opalescence Go 15 Percent Kit. $84. ...
  • Bite Whitening Gel. $24. ...
  • Auraglow Teeth Whitening Pen. $20. ...
  • Crest 3D Whitestrips Professional Effects Whitening Strips. $46. ...
  • Burst Coconut Whitening Strips. $20. ...
  • Lumineux Teeth-Whitening Strips. $23. ...
  • Colgate Optic White Toothpaste. ...
  • Arm & Hammer Advance White Baking Soda and Peroxide Toothpaste.
Jan 12, 2024

What do dentists recommend to whiten teeth? ›

Carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide are commonly used in whitening interventions and can readily permeate dental hard tissues.

How can I permanently whiten my teeth at home? ›

6 Natural Ways To Whiten Your Teeth
  1. First things first, brush your teeth regularly: ...
  2. Oil pulling: ...
  3. Brush with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide paste: ...
  4. Rub banana, orange, or lemon peels: ...
  5. Take a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: ...
  6. Go to the dentist:

What is the least damaging way to whiten your teeth? ›

Here are a few to consider: Baking Soda: As long as you are careful to brush gently, baking soda can eliminate stains from the surface of your teeth without damaging them. Whitening Strips: Whitening strips mold to the shape of your teeth to whiten them. Whitening strips are both safe and effective.

How can I permanently whiten my teeth at-home? ›

6 Natural Ways To Whiten Your Teeth
  1. First things first, brush your teeth regularly: ...
  2. Oil pulling: ...
  3. Brush with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide paste: ...
  4. Rub banana, orange, or lemon peels: ...
  5. Take a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: ...
  6. Go to the dentist:

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