Most people wouldn’t mind having their teeth a little whiter, but do those do-it-yourself teeth whitening kits actually work, or are you better off going to the dentist?

It depends on what you’re looking for. The good news is, over-the-counter kits can certainly make your teeth a little whiter if used properly. However, the results will be subtle—not nearly as effective as a treatment administered by your dentist.

If you want significant whitening, you’ll need to see your dentist. Either way, you should always speak to your dentist before starting whitening treatment in order to avoid potential complications.

Who should avoid at-home teeth whitening?

If you have dental restorations that are visible when you smile, you should consult with your dentist before starting whitening. These restorations will not get lighter, so they will be more noticeable after whitening.

In addition, if you have cavities or pre-existing sensitivity, you should get those issues addressed before you start whitening. Tooth bleaching agents cause temporary sensitivity and can aggravate pain from existing infections. It’s important to have clean, healthy teeth before you start whitening.

How effective are at-home kits?

Effectiveness varies. Do-it-yourself teeth whitening is not a highly regulated industry, so you should always look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance on any product you buy. That said, none of the at-home whitening products will give you results that are as good as those you’ll get from a dentist.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the bleaching solutions used in at-home kits are not as strong as the ones used by a dentist. Second, the effectiveness of your whitening treatment depends on keeping the bleaching agent in contact with your teeth and away from saliva.

If the strips or trays that come with your kit don’t fit well, the bleach will be diluted and you won’t see results. Similarly, products that don’t use trays or strips will have a very limited effect, because they get washed away quickly by your saliva. Some of these trayless products use binding agents similar to those used in lipstick, but even then, significant dilution occurs.

Does whitening toothpaste work?

Whitening toothpaste only removes light surface stains and will not significantly whiten your teeth, although it can be useful as a maintenance treatment.

What type of teeth-whitening kit should I use?

You should use a kit that fits well and keeps saliva out. If you find that the bleaching agent doesn’t stay against your teeth, or that you’re not seeing the results you want, you may be better off discussing in-office treatments with your dentist.

Further Reading