White teeth are a prize most anyone would be eager to show off. But after years of wear and tear -- and coffee, wine, etc. -- our teeth tend to get stained. Once your teeth's natural pearlescent shine begins to fade, it's time to call for a little extra help: teeth whiteners. The vast majority of experts agree that in-office professional teeth whitening by your dentist is most effective, but opinions vary widely on whether over-the-counter strips, pastes, chewing gum, trays and paint-on liquids really work.
Reviewers and other experts agree that, although expensive, professional teeth whitening is the most effective and convenient way to brighten your smile. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends this method as well, saying it's preferable to have any teeth-whitening process supervised by a dentist. That's because a dentist can examine your mouth for any underlying problems (cavities, gum disease, etc.) and determine whether you are a good candidate for teeth whitening.
If you choose this route, there are a few options to choose from; your dentist can help you find the one that's right for you. Most methods involve a powerful bleaching gel and a specialized light or laser that activates the gel for faster, more effective whitening.
A more affordable alternative to in-office whitening is professional at-home whitening, which generally makes use of heavy-duty bleaching solutions and custom-made dental trays administered by a dentist. Although this method is less expensive than in-office whitening, it takes longer to see the results.
Aside from professional whitening, the effectiveness of over-the-counter teeth-whitening products can vary depending on the product being used and the person using it. Popular forms of OTC teeth whiteners include whitening strips, brush-on gels, toothpastes and teeth-whitening gum. These products are typically more effective than either in-office or at-home treatments because they are often more affordable and easy to use.
For this report, we chose a best-reviewed pick for at-home professional whitening treatments, OTC whitening products and whitening products that are suitable for sensitive teeth. Best-reviewed products were chosen based on whitening ability, ease of use and safety, based on information and testing done by both professionals and owner reviewers. ConsumerSearch ranks each source based on how thoroughly teeth whiteners are tested and how many products are compared.
Best Teeth Whitening
Fast teeth whitening comes at a price
The only ADA-recommended teeth-whitening treatments are those that are supervised by a dentist. There are two options: in-office teeth whitening that uses light therapy to speed up the bleaching process or at-home whitening that consists of a custom-fit mouth tray and syringes filled with bleaching gel. Both options produce the greatest whitening results available. They are also the safest because they require the approval of your dentist after an oral exam.
Professional in-office teeth whitening (Est. $500 to $800) produces the fastest results -- usually within an hour. But it comes at a price. Not only is the procedure expensive, but it can also be painful. We found several user reviews that complain about severe sensitivity. Some say the dramatic results (up to 10 shades lighter) are worth the discomfort, but others say the pain is extreme and not comparable to the results.
However, the newest and most cutting-edge teeth-whitening technology, such as Philips's new Zoom WhiteSpeed lamp (Est. $400 to $1000) has been designed to minimize sensitivity by emitting less irritating heat and using a system that releases peroxide more gradually. Users say this treatment is virtually pain-free.
Research and testing have shown professional at-home whitening (Est. $200 to $600) to be just as effective as in-office procedures, but it takes longer to see the results. Treatment lasts up to two weeks and is typically gentler than in-office bleaching. Several users notice no sensitivity issues at all, while others say the pain is minimal at most. If sensitivity is a concern, your dentist can prescribe a lower dosage of bleaching solution. Furthermore, the trays are custom-built to your teeth to ensure comfort and maximum contact with the bleaching solution. After the initial cost of creating a custom mouth tray, follow-up treatments are much more affordable (Est. $50 for prefilled whitening syringes).
All-natural teeth-whitening products are essentially nonexistent at this point, but if you want to stay away from artificial teeth-whitening methods, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to keep your teeth white. Experts at Discovery Health say eating more fruits, vegetables and cheese can contribute to a healthier smile. You can also mix baking soda and lemon juice into a paste to remove surface stains from your teeth.
We recommend professional at-home teeth whitening as the best way to whiten your teeth because it is more affordable than in-office treatments, and it produces the same results with a lot less sensitivity.