Best Teeth Whitening Methods | Our Experts’ Choices (2024)

Teeth whitening is a safe and effective way to brighten your smile. Professional in-office dental treatments and at-home products are viable options for whitening teeth.

We asked Dr. Phong Tran Cao, DDS of Luminae Cosmetic Dentistry, and Corina Layton, a Registered Dental Hygienist in Savannah, GA, to weigh in on the top tooth whitening methods.

What’s the Best Way to Whiten Teeth?

The best methods for whitening teeth include professional in-office whitening, LED whitening kits, and at-home products with whitening agents like peroxide.

The effectiveness varies from method to method. You should consult with your dentist before using any tooth-whitening product and follow all safety precautions and instructions when whitening your teeth.

Professional In-Office Whitening

The most effective tooth whitening is an in-office procedure. Your dentist will use a peroxide-based whitening agent with a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide than at-home products.

The higher peroxide concentration means you’ll see results after a single session. Your dentist completes the treatment in the office, so you don’t have to do anything at home.

A professional facilitating the whitening process reduces the risk of side effects like tooth sensitivity, soft tissue burns or damage, and gum irritation.

Effective onExtrinsic and intrinsic or surface stains
Peroxide Level20% to 40%
Time2 hours per session
UpkeepEvery 6 months to a year
Cost$262 to $1,180

LED Whitening Kits

One of the at-home whitening treatments available are LED whitening kits. This treatment comes with two main components:

  • Whitening gel containing hydrogen or carbamide peroxide
  • A tray or mouthpiece with LED lights to accelerate the whitening process

You’ll fill the tray with the gel and insert it into your mouth for the instructed time.

These kits are convenient for getting whiter teeth without visiting the dentist’s office. LED whitening kits are more affordable but less effective than in-office treatments.

Effective onExtrinsic and intrinsic stains
Peroxide Level10% to 20%
Time10 to 45 minutes per session
UpkeepA few times a month
Cost$50 to $300

Teeth Whitening Strips

You can use whitening strips from the comfort of your home. You apply these directly onto your teeth, making them an effective option for people who want fast results.

Teeth whitening strips contain a combination of active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, and fluoride. They are safe to use but can cause tooth sensitivity because you need to leave the strip on longer than LED treatments.

Effective onExtrinsic and intrinsic stains
Peroxide Level5% to 15%
Time30 minutes per session
UpkeepA few times a month
Cost$10 to $50

Take-Home Trays

Take-home whitening trays are custom-made plastic trays designed specifically for whitening your teeth at home. Your dentist will create a customized take-home tray based on your unique dental needs.

These trays have whitening gels placed into them. You wear the tray for several hours while sleeping or relaxing. The gel slowly dissolves around your teeth, leaving your teeth whiter and brighter.

This option is safe in moderation. It’s also better to use custom-made trays instead of buying pre-packaged ones to ensure there’s minimal contact between the whitening gel and your gums.

Effective onExtrinsic and intrinsic stains
Peroxide Level10% to 30%
Time1 to 2 hours per use
UpkeepA few times a month
Cost$300 to $500

Whitening Pens

Whitening pens deliver bleaching agents directly to the surface of your teeth. These pens usually contain hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.

Teeth whitening pens are convenient because they’re small enough to bring anywhere. They’re also easy to use, and you can apply them yourself. However, consistent use is necessary to see any noticeable results.

Effective onExtrinsic and intrinsic stains
Peroxide Level10% to 30%
Time20 to 30 minutes per use
UpkeepA few times a week
Cost$10 to $25

Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste is a less effective option. However, it can still lift some stains. Some whitening toothpastes feature polishing or chemical agents that deliver additional stain-removal properties.

While whitening toothpastes can help remove teeth stains, they do little to whiten your teeth. A whitening toothpaste in addition to one of the other five options above is recommended for optimal whitening effects.

Effective onExtrinsic stains
Peroxide LevelUp to 5%
Time2 minutes a day
UpkeepDaily or a few times a week
Cost$3 to $15

Whitening Mouthwash

A whitening mouthwash is not as effective as the first five options. It works by removing stains from your teeth and tongue and contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.

Whitening mouthwash is generally safe because it contains low concentrations of peroxide additives. However, you still have to follow proper usage instructions. You may experience a burning sensation in your mouth if you don’t.

Effective onExtrinsic stains
Peroxide LevelUp to 2%
Time30 seconds a day
UpkeepDaily or a few times a week
Cost$2 to $10

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Teeth whitening is safe if you follow the instructions carefully and use a professional product.

Dr. Cao says, “Whitening your teeth is safe and shouldn’t produce any negative side effects if you use dentist-approved methods. Most methods remove stains by bleaching your teeth’s outer enamel—a process considered safe by many dentists who also whiten their teeth.”

Hydrogen Peroxide vs. Carbamide Peroxide

Layton says, “Patients seem to experience less sensitivity with carbamide peroxide but better results with hydrogen peroxide-based whitening agents.” However, she recommends that people see their dentist to see what’s best for their mouth and teeth.

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are two of the most common whiteners. They are both effective and safe to use.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common household item (you can find it in most first aid kits). It’s a natural bleaching agent, antiseptic, and oxidizer. Carbamide peroxide is a water-soluble, white crystalline solid compound. It’s made of carbamide and hydrogen peroxide.

What Peroxide Level is Safe in At-Home Whitening Kits?

Starting with a whitening treatment that contains 10% to 12% hydrogen peroxide (30% to 35% carbamide peroxide) is generally considered safe.

Professional teeth whitening treatments have a higher peroxide level but are safe because a trained dentist administers them.

If you can’t access professional whitening treatment at a dentist’s office, use an at-home whitening kit with a safe peroxide level. Everyone’s mouth is different, so start at a low peroxide level and work your way up if needed.

Adverse effects greatly increase when you misuse a teeth whitening product. Higher concentrations of hydrogen or carbamide peroxide may also cause increased sensitivity.

Best Teeth Whitening Methods | Our Experts’ Choices (1)

What Teeth Whitening Methods Don’t Work?

Not all teeth whitening methods are safe and effective. Many do-it-yourself (DIY) or natural remedies don’t work and may be unsafe.

Always speak to a dental health professional before you try any natural or at-home treatment. Our experts advise against using the following methods to whiten your teeth:


Charcoal is an abrasive product that can damage your teeth. If used incorrectly, charcoal can be dangerous. While some studies have shown that activated charcoal removes surface stains, it’s not the safest or most effective option.

Acidic Fruits

Acidic fruits like lemons and limes are ineffective at tooth whitening and can erode tooth enamel. They can also cause cavities, tooth sensitivity, and other dental problems.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acid, which can wear away tooth enamel. This leaves your teeth more susceptible to decay and cavities.

While the acid in apple cider vinegar can break down plaque or other substances stuck to the teeth, dental professionals do not recommend this method.

Baking Soda-Hydrogen Peroxide Paste

Mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide creates an abrasive paste that can damage your teeth. This paste can dissolve your enamel and lead to tooth sensitivity.

Using a baking soda-hydrogen paste can lead to whiter and brighter teeth. However, it’s easy to misuse these products and cause teeth damage.

Turmeric and Other Spices

Spices like turmeric can damage your enamel if you apply them directly to your teeth. While these ingredients have several health benefits, it’s not recommended for teeth whitening.

In addition, there’s no evidence using these ingredients will make your teeth whiter.

Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is a practice where you swish oil in the mouth. It’s been shown to reduce bad breath and improve oral hygiene.

Oil pulling does not whiten teeth on its own. You need to combine it with another teeth whitening method for optimal results.

Potential Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

While most professional teeth whitening methods are generally safe, they can be risky. Some side effects include:

Tooth Sensitivity

Applying bleach to your teeth can cause tooth sensitivity. You may also feel pain or discomfort when consuming hot or cold foods or drinks. This is because the bleach breaks down the protective layer of the enamel.

Yellow or Gray Spots

When using bleaching agents, apply them properly. Otherwise, you may have yellow or gray spots on your teeth. If you notice yellow spots after whitening, stop using the product immediately.

Allergic Reactions

Allergies to tooth whitening products are rare. However, stop using the product if you experience any symptoms, such as swelling, itching, or redness. Contact your doctor immediately before continuing use.

Gum Irritation

Gum irritation can occur if the whitening treatment comes in contact with your gum line. When using at-home teeth whitening kits, apply the product only to the surface of your teeth.

How to Prevent Teeth Stains

Whether or not you’ve whitened your teeth, you can take precautions to prevent tooth stains and discoloration. Try these tips to prevent stains:

  • Practice good oral hygiene ⁠— Brush your teeth at least twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste. Floss regularly and rinse with a mouthwash.
  • Avoid dark foods and drinks ⁠— Moderate how much you consume of food or beverages that can stain your teeth, such as coffee, red wine, tea, and soda
  • Rinse your mouth ⁠— Rinse your mouth with water after consuming food or drinks that contain acid and/or may stain.
  • Don’t smoke ⁠— Avoid or quit smoking and tobacco use, which is a leading cause of tooth discoloration.
  • See your dentist regularly — Visit at least every six months for a routine cleaning and check-up.


Teeth whitening is a safe and effective way to brighten your teeth and improve your smile. It’s one of the most popular dental procedures performed today.

The most effective tooth whitening method is an in-office procedure with a high peroxide concentration. You can also find effective at-home products that use some form of peroxide, such as LED lightening kits or whitening strips.

Natural remedies like charcoal, acidic fruit juice, and apple cider vinegar are best avoided, as they can damage teeth. To keep your teeth white and stain-free, practice good oral hygiene, avoid dark foods and smoking, and visit your dentist every year.

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