All that cold brew or rosé all day got your teeth yellow? Everyone wants white teeth, but dentist office options are an expense many of us can’t justify (or, let’s be real, afford). Enter at-home teeth whitening kits: They’ve been around for decades, but continue getting more high-tech as new companies enter the space and technology improves.
But do these at-home teeth whitening kits really live up to their promises and claims? And are they just as effective as more expensive teeth whitening options you get at the dentist? Let’s take a look at some popular options, as well as the science behind how they actually whiten your teeth so you know exactly which kit is best for you.
What comes in a tooth-whitening kit?
What comes in a tooth whitening kit will depend on the kit that you’ve ordered. Whitening kits that use a strip-based application system will generally contain enough strips to treat your teeth a certain number of times. If you’ve opted for a kit that has a gel-based application system, you’ll find the gel, applicator, and perhaps even a whitening light in your kit.
Additionally, most kits will have a chart that helps you easily identify the color of your teeth both before and after treatment, so you can see your results. And of course, every teeth whitening kit includes instructions for use. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results and to avoid possible injury.
What is the chemical that whitens teeth?
The active ingredient in most at-home whitening products is something called hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) which is delivered as either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. At-home teeth whitening systems contain anywhere from 3% to 20% peroxide. Peroxide’s effect occurs because it is a weak acid with strong oxidizing properties. This means that it steals the electrons that hold atoms together, which in turn causes the molecules that cause staining to fall apart.
How long does home tooth whitening take?
Because home tooth whitening kits contain a weaker amount of peroxide compared to dental office whitening systems, they tend to take longer to produce the same effects. Whitening pens take a couple of days to a week to see results, while whitening strips require multiple daily treatments usually over the course of a couple of weeks. Whitening toothpaste and mouthwashes can take anywhere from six weeks to several months to show results. At-home whitening gel trays give noticeable results in about a week, but you won’t see full results for about 2-4 weeks.
How long does home teeth whitening last?
Home teeth whitening results last for about six months, on average. Some systems (such as at-home whitening gel trays) produce better results than others, so it’s always best to research your options. Professional dental whitening can give results for up to two to three years, on average.
The best way to make your teeth whitening results last longer is to maintain good oral hygiene and lifestyle habits. Brush at least twice a day and floss daily. An electric toothbrush gets you a cleaner smile than a manual brush, and with so many electric toothbrush subscription services available it’s easy to change your brush every three to four months as the CDC recommends. In addition, avoid stain-producing foods and drinks, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol.
Can people with sensitive teeth or gums use teeth whitening kits?
Yes! People with sensitive teeth or gums can use teeth whitening kits, but they should be mindful of the strength of the peroxide in the kit. There are several options available designed specifically for those who have sensitive teeth. Also, by following the manufacturer’s recommended time limits and not going longer than recommended, you can help to avoid some of the discomfort associated with teeth whitening kits. Keep in mind that the American Dental Association notes that temporary tooth sensitivity and gingival inflammation are the most common adverse effects of vital tooth whitening.
What causes yellow teeth and how can you prevent them?
Yellow teeth can be caused by a number of different factors. These may be internal or external. Some internal factors that cause yellow teeth include:
Internal stains tend to be deeper and harder to remove than surface stains. At-home whitening kits aren’t always the best choice for these types of stains. External factors that cause yellow teeth include:
Because these types of stains are on the outside of the tooth, they are easier to remove and at-home teeth whitening products will be more effective on them.
Are there side effects from teeth whitening?
While teeth whitening is a relatively common and minor procedure, it’s not without side effects. The most common side effect of tooth whitening is sensitivity. The active ingredients in teeth whitening kits can cause sensitivity to occur in teeth and gums. Often, this doesn’t last for long but some people do notice that long-term use of any teeth whitener with peroxide or abrasives is uncomfortable. Other possible side effects include:
Burning and irritation of the gums. This is more likely to occur from at-home gel tray whitening products. You can avoid this problem by covering your gums completely prior to treatment and using custom-fitted trays.
Gum whitening. The whitening agent in teeth whitening kits can also have a whitening effect on your gums, causing them to bleach and lose their color for a short period of time.
Upset stomach. You might end up with an upset stomach if you accidentally swallow a whitening product. This should be temporary. Try your best not to swallow any whitening agent.
Tooth damage. There’s some research to suggest that whitening products could cause damage to your tooth enamel or dentin, and even possibly surface grooves on the teeth due to strong bleaching solutions or abrasives.
Pain. Some people note tooth pain during or after using a whitening kit. If you experience pain, burning, or extreme sensitivity, it’s worth checking in with your dentist. In rare cases, whitener can enter a cavity or cracked tooth, leading to major pain requiring a dentist visit.
If you want to make your smile brighter and whiter, you can do so safely without the major expense of professional whitening treatment. There are several great at-home teeth whitening options to choose from. While you may experience some side effects from teeth whitening, most at-home whitening treatments are safe to use as long as you follow the product’s directions, and any discomfort should be minimal and short-lived. Here are some of the best teeth whitening kits and best teeth whitening products available on the market today for getting a glamorous white smile at home.