There are dozens of whitening toothpastes and treatments out there, but only so many are equipped to actually help brighten your smile. Dentist Mandy Kouroshnia of New York’s Unison Family Dental says for the best results with whitening products at home, you should be considering what kinds of stains you’re dealing with first. Sometimes she says if you’re seeing telltale yellowing when you smile, you may only need a standard cleaning in the office, while other deep stains can’t be removed through whitening, period (tetracycline stains are one example). But generally, if you’re getting regular in-office cleanings and perhaps the occasional whitening treatment, at-home toothpastes, gels, and mouthwashes can be very helpful for maintaining your pearly whites.
We spoke to six different dentists all who say hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient you should be looking for in whitening products. This will help to remove surface stains, which Dr. Marie Jackson, the founder of Stellar Smile Center, says is really all you can expect from at-home teeth whitening. “Pretty much all across the board [whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes] are similar in that they help prevent surface stains, but the truth of the matter is they don’t actually change the color of teeth,” she says. She cautions advertisements that promise to “jump you ten shades in three weeks,” as she says that only applies to someone who hasn’t been to the dentist for years and has heavy staining on their teeth. Someone who is getting regular cleanings, which removes surface stains, won’t get the same results. What you can expect from these products is maintaining your office cleaning and preventing further staining from things like tea, coffee, kombucha, red wine, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, as Dr. Jackson says “anything that can stain a white T-shirt can surface-stain the teeth.”
Ahead, the best toothpastes, whitening strips, and whitening gels for maintaining your white teeth at home.
Toothpaste and toothbrushes
Whitening toothpaste is one drugstore product you can use to cover your bases. It’s an easy fix because you don’t have to add an additional step but rather swap something from your current routine, but Kouroshnia says that ideally, you’re using them in addition to other whitening solutions. New York cosmetic dentist Edward A. Alvarez typically recommends Colgate Optic White to his patients for true tooth-bleaching. Unlike options like Crest 3D White that rely on physical tooth-polishers like silica or calcium carbonate, which can dull the surface of the enamel over time, “Optic White contains hydrogen peroxide in a small concentration that will actually whiten or bleach your tooth enamel, giving you true color change to your tooth structure.” Dr. Jackson and Dr. Elisa Mello of NYC Smile Design are also a fan of this Colgate toothpaste, but Dr. Mello doesn’t recommend it for daily use. Hydrogen peroxide is an abrasive so in addition to lifting stains it can also cause sensitivity or even take off some tooth enamel if used too frequently. “You want to use it judiciously,” she says. “You don’t want to use it as a replacement for your regular toothpaste. I have patients who love it so I have them use it once a week.”
This whitening toothpaste is also hydrogen-peroxide-based, but it contains sodium bicarbonate and sodium fluoride, which Dr. Sharon Huang, the founder of Les Belles NYC, an integrative holistic dentist office in Manhattan, says it will whiten your teeth naturally over time and keep your mouth pH balanced. “The sodium bicarbonate raises the pH of the mouth so it makes it less acidic,” she says. “Acidity is related to cavities so balancing the acidity in the mouth is important.” She adds that it also contains fluoride, which prevents cavities as well.
Kouroshnia prefers to use this Opalescence whitening toothpaste, which we’ve written about before, to keep her teeth white. It does rely on silica to polish teeth, but is designed with a low-abrasion formula, so it’s safer to use every day. The fluoride in it can help with tooth sensitivity, and it comes in different flavors like Cool Mint and Melon to suit your tastes. “I feel like Opalescence shines your teeth really well. It’s quite good,” she says.
If you’re looking for a fluoride-free option, Dr. Huang recommends this toothpaste from clean brand Wellnesse. It was founded by a mom of six in her kitchen, and instead of fluoride it uses an alternative mineralizing ingredient, hydroxyapatite, which restores tooth enamel just the same. Dr. Huang adds, “It also has aloe vera, and calcium carbonate so it removes plaque debris buildup and also surface stains, so this is a good toothpaste that will whiten, but also remineralize.”
If you already have sensitive teeth, but still want a whitening toothpaste, Hello has a product for you. “It has the active ingredient to whiten, but it also has a desensitizer,” explains Dr. Huang. The active ingredient is Potassium nitrate, which decreases the level of activity of dental sensory nerves which will reduce teeth sensitivity, making the whitening process more tolerable.
And because even something as simple as a deep-clean can create noticeably whiter teeth, an electric toothbrush can be a massive help. Kouroshnia says, “The thing with the electric toothbrush is not just that it makes your life easier. The vibration of those bristles, especially the ones from Sonicare, go into the pores. Whitening settings [Editor’s note: like the White setting on this Sonicare toothbrush] vibrate even more to remove all of those particles or little stains that are stuck in the unevenness of your tooth surface.”
Should you want something even lower commitment than a toothpaste, Dr. Jackson and Dr.Alvarez are both fans of this mouthwash. Dr Alvarez, who actually says he swishes Listerine Healthy White every day to keep his smile bright, adds “The mouthwash contains hydrogen peroxide to whiten your teeth, just like Optic White, as well as fluoride to help strengthen teeth.”
If you’re looking for an all natural option, try coconut oil pulling. “Coconut oil naturally brightens teeth,” says Dr. Huang. It also has vitamins A, D, E and K, and has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties so it’s great for the overall health of your mouth as well. It’s just as simple as using mouthwash, too. “Simply swish with a teaspoon of your favorite organic coconut oil for 20 minutes daily,” she says. “If you’re new to pulling — work your way up to 20 minutes by starting with five-minute increments.” Dr. Huang says any organic coconut oil will do, but this is the one Nicole Richie uses.
Three of the experts we spoke to mentioned Crest 3D White Strips as their number one recommendation in this category. “They have the ADA seal of acceptance, which means they have been evaluated scientifically for their safety and efficacy by the American Dental Association,” says Dr. Ben El Chami, the co-founder and chief dental officer at dntl bar. “Many of my patients have also used this product and gotten good results from personal experience.” They use hydrogen peroxide, which is pretty much the gold standard of at-home teeth whitening. Dr. Jackson is a “big fan,” too. “Usually we’ll recommend using it every day for a week or two weeks, and you will see a difference in the shade if used as recommended on the back of the box,” she says. They recommend using this one for 30 minutes at a time.
And no matter how non-slip a whitening strip claims to be, anyone who has used them before knows they can be a little tricky to work with, which is why Dr. Mello doesn’t recommend them to everyone. However, she does think they work on young, untreated teeth. “They’re great after a 16-year-old has had orthodontics, but as you get older and the stains are deeper and generally you will need more professional strength to really get it out.” When she does recommend strips, it’s always Crest.
Dr. Huang prefers this hydrogen-peroxide strip because it doesn’t have many other ingredients. It also comes with a gum-comforting oil to apply to your teeth and gums after you use it to help with any sensitivity. This one takes a little longer to work than the above. Recommended use is every day for an hour.
If you’re looking to add as little time as possible to your oral-care routine, these strips work in just 15 minutes. In addition to having 6 percent hydrogen peroxide, which Dr. Huang says is a solid middle ground for OTC products, it also contains coconut oil which is not only whitening but soothing. She also mentions that she hasn’t seen too much sensitivity with this product in her patients.
For a more natural whitening strip, Dr. Huang recommends Lumineux as it does not contain peroxide. It instead uses coconut oil, aloe vera, and xylitol. Because it’s so natural it’s been approved for daily use, and it won’t agitate the teeth.
Though all of the products listed above should work on superficial stains, if you want something closer to the real deal of an office whitening treatment, two of the dentists said the most effective at-home options are take-home trays that contain hydrogen peroxide. They’re the closest to an in-office whitening session (which typically involves a higher percentage of hydrogen peroxide, and a custom-fit bleaching tray) that you can get.
“Personally, I have take-home trays, and I really like the freedom of whitening as much as I want, for as long as I want, whenever I want,” says Kouroshnia. She adds that they’re less likely to cause the same sensitivities as with a box of white strips.
One example is Opalescence Go, a kit that comes in varying concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (there are 10 percent,