Although whitening your teeth at home won't give you the instantaneous, blinding white choppers that a professional treatment will, it does a pretty good job at a fraction of the cost. Still, before you whiten your teeth, do check with your dentist to be sure he or she has no concerns. We also recommend that you use a whitening toothpaste, which we cover in a separate report, to maintain that dazzling smile.
What's in that teeth whitening product? We wanted to include the percentage of whitening ingredient in each of the teeth whitening products that we recommend, but it's not easy to ascertain that number because the manufacturers do not include those specifics on their websites. In each case, we reached out to the manufacturer to verify ingredient percentages, with mixed results. Some makers were glad to share percentages, others politely declined, saying that was considered proprietary information.
There are plenty of websites devoted to teeth whitening that claim to know the exact breakdown, but, since there's no way to verify their information, we did not accept those as reliable. However, experts generally agree that home teeth whitening products have up to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide, while professionally applied tooth whitening treatments can contain from 25 to 40 percent. As a result, we would suggest being skeptical if you read anything not directly attributable to the manufacturer that claims that an over-the-counter whitening product contains more than 10 percent whitening agent.
Teeth whitening is a popular and rather inexpensive procedure, and teeth whitening products are common to find in "best of" roundups. Sometimes these recommendations include either testing with real consumers or a dental professional's recommendation; other recommendations are just based on the product's reputation. The challenge for this update was that a couple of the roundups that actually rely on testing also recommend products that get extremely low ratings from users, or are made by companies that don't have websites (or have very sketchy-looking websites) so we can't check their validity.
For that reason, and because teeth whitening is so individual, we give a lot of weight to what users say about the product. We also took note of the fact that off-brand teeth whitening products tend to be subject to more suspect reviews than most other categories we cover, so we're careful to weed out those suspiciously positive ratings -- often dozens or hundreds that sound eerily alike in tone.
Experts agree: the best choice for most people for whitening their teeth at home are teeth whitening strips. They are easy to use, with little muss or fuss involved, and cause a minimal amount of pain. Furthermore, experts and users also agree that Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrips Professional Effects (Est. $45 for 20 treatments) are the best strips you can use. Reviewers say that they see a noticeable difference in their smile even after a few days -- and a very big difference after the full, 20-day treatment.
The Crest strips couldn't be simpler to use, just peel them from their foil package, remove the backing, and apply to your teeth. Crest recommends you do so before you brush your teeth for optimal adherence, and some users add that they get even better results if they dry their teeth first. Once they're on though, they stay on, and you can even talk or drink water while wearing the strips. Each treatment is 30 minutes, once a day. Crest makes other Whitestrips systems as well, including some with stronger concentrations of hydrogen peroxide for quicker whitening and some with shorter treatment periods of 14 days. All get kudos for effectiveness and convenience, but the Professional Effects series is far and away the most popular option.
Most people with sensitive teeth say they can use Crest Whitestrips Professional Effects without any significant problems. Others, especially those with very sensitive teeth, say these strips caused pain or tingling, or caused cankers on their gums or lips -- although the latter complaint is very rare. Crest does offer a gentler product, Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine (Est. $35) that gets good reviews for causing less pain. They are used once a day, 5 minutes a day, for 14 days. They don't get as much praise for noticeable whitening that the other Crest Whitestrips do, but they're a better choice for those with sensitive teeth.
No other strip-style whitener even comes close to Crest Whitestrips when it comes to credible positive feedback -- many major dental care manufacturers don't even make a tooth whitening strip. The only other strips we saw that appear at first glance to be highly rated by users had scores that were primarily the result of reviews made in exchange for a free product; because of the high possibility of bias in such reviews, they were disregarded.
Kits for teeth whitening usually include gels, trays and sometimes other items, such as whitening pens, to give you better coverage than strips can. Some kits even include UV lights, but most experts say the lights don't really do much except add to the cost. These kits are easy to use, too, just fill the trays with the gel, fit them on your teeth, and wear them for a prescribed period of time every day for a specific number of days. Teeth whitening kits are usually how companies package "fast whitening" products, and these are thought to have a higher hydrogen peroxide combination than the standard maximum of 10 percent, but, since manufacturers won't confirm the exact percentages of their whitening ingredients, that's merely speculation.
The Rembrandt 2-Hour Whitening Kit (Est. $40) earns kudos from both experts and users for its fast results, with plenty of happy reviewers posting "before" and "after" pictures on product review websites to prove it. Some even say that the bleaching effects continue for 12 or more hours, and their teeth were even whiter when they woke up than they had been the night before.
Rembrandt's 2-Hour kit is super easy to use, just dip the moldable trays in hot water, let them cool a bit, place them in your mouth to form to your teeth, remove, fill with gel and replace. It's a bit time-consuming though, and you have to keep track of what you're doing because you wear the trays for 20 minutes at a time, removing them and resting your teeth for 10 minutes in between sessions. It's also messier than strips because the gel tends to "ooze" a bit; something that stimulates a few people's sensitive gag reflex, but doesn't bother others.
The big issue with the 2-Hour Whitening Kit is that it gets many complaints from those with sensitive teeth -- even some who did not have issues with other teeth whitening kits. This may be due to a higher concentration of whitening agent (although Rembrandt would not verify the concentration), but it also can be attributed just to leaving the whitener on the teeth for such a long period of time in one sitting -- the longer you leave a whitening treatment on your teeth, the more apt you are to suffer from sensitivity issues.
It gets more mixed reviews from users, but the Plus White 5-Minute Speed Whitening Kit (Est. $20) is also about half the price of Rembrandt's fast whitening kit. And, if you dig into the reviews a bit, you see that unhappy customers generally complain about teeth sensitivity. These users tend to be very harsh in their judgements, often giving a 1 star review for something that, to be fair, isn't really the product's fault as all teeth whiteners can cause some pain for those with sensitive teeth. Most users are very happy with the results they get from the Plus White kit, especially for the price.
Gels are the least common and least popular of the available teeth whiteners, but some people like them because they can use them virtually anywhere. You "paint" them on your teeth using a swab, toothbrush or any small brush. Although they claim to whiten quickly and to lighten up dark stains better than other types of whitening products, experts say that's not so: because they're just painted on, they don't really stay on long enough to be as effective as products that stay in contact with your teeth for a set period of time. Most gels can be used with trays to increase their effectiveness, but you'll have to purchase the trays separately.
In this category, the product that gets the best reviews we spotted is Plus White 5 Minute Speed Whitening Gel (Est. $7 for 2 oz. tube). Users like that they can use this "on the go" or while traveling without anyone knowing that they're whitening. Quite a few users say they leave the gel on longer than the minimum of 5 minutes for greater effectiveness; up to 30 minutes is fine, according to the manufacturer.
We saw fewer comments regarding painful or sensitive teeth with the Plus White 5 Minute Speed Whitening Gel. In fact, many say that this is the only whitening product they have ever been able to use without pain. Quite a few also say it's easier to use than strips or tray systems, although some say they use it with whitening trays they've obtained elsewhere.
Another well-reviewed gel product is the Smilebriter Teeth Whitening Gel Pens (Est. $20). Plenty of happy users have posted "before" and "after" pictures showing their noticeably brighter teeth after a few weeks of use. It's simple to use, just apply the gel and let it dry then leave it on. Each pen lasts about a month, they note. As with the Plus White gel, there are fewer complaints of pain and sensitivity with these pens than with products like strips and trays.
As we noted in the introduction to this report, teeth whiteners are a popular category for questionable products and suspicious reviews, so we were careful to weed those out. The professional roundups we found that involved testing were at Good Housekeeping, TopTenReviews.com and Reviews.com. Even more helpful were user reviews at TotalBeauty.com, Amazon.com and Walmart.com.