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. $35 for 20 treatments) are the best strips you can use. Reviewers say they see a noticeable difference in their smile even after a few days -- and a very big difference after the full, 20-day treatment.
These 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, some with stronger concentrations of hydrogen peroxide for quicker whitening, 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.
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. $30) 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.
If you want to make whiter teeth a regular part of your beauty routine, experts say you should brush daily (or twice daily) with a whitening toothpaste. Whitening toothpastes generally have small amounts of either hydrogen peroxide or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to help remove stains and brighten teeth.
The whitening toothpaste that works the best, reviewers agree, is Colgate Optic White (Est. $25 for pack of six). It's not going to give you dramatically whiter teeth like a dedicated whitening treatment will, but users say they do notice a difference, most after about a week, and more noticeably after a month or so. In spite of their smile-brightening qualities, whitening toothpastes are very safe to use, even for the long term, and Colgate Optic White contains fluoride to provide the complete, cavity-fighting package. And, speaking of packages, quite a few users suggest pairing it with the Colgate Optic White Toothbrush (Est. $6) which features "whitening cups" to hold toothpaste for more even distribution.
Most users say Colgate Optic White has a pleasant, minty flavor, while others dislike it -- taste is definitely a matter of, well, taste. There are very few complaints of sensitivity issues or pain when using this whitening toothpaste, but if you do experience any unusual or new issues when switching from one toothpaste to another, discontinue its use immediately.
Many people have very sensitive teeth and just about anything sets them to tingling. For them, we highly recommend trying Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste (Est. $14 for a pack of three). It's a top pick of experts, and gets even better ratings from users than standard whitening toothpastes. The great thing about Sensodyne is that its ingredients give it a cumulative effect; that is, the more you use it, the less sensitive your teeth become over time.
Besides being a good choice for everyday use for those with sensitive teeth, users say that they notice a whiter, brighter smile after using Sensodyne Pronamel for a while. Some who can use virtually any toothpaste, but have issues with pain when they use dedicated whitening products, such as strips or gels, switch to Sensodyne a few weeks before they start whitening, saying it helps to relieve the pain and tingling and enables them to get through the full process.
If you prefer a fluoride-free whitening toothpaste, Tom's of Maine Antiplaque and Whitening Toothpaste (Est. $7) should be at the top of your list. While most dental professionals recommend a fluoride toothpaste for everyone over age 2, some people either are allergic to fluoride, or want a fluoride-free option. Tom's gets raves from users who say it makes their mouth feel clean and leaves their smile sparkling. There are a few complaints about the taste, some say it's too flat or subtle, others point out that, while it's not as strongly flavored as most commercial toothpastes, you do get used to it. Unlike the other toothpastes in this roundup, Tom's uses calcium carbonate, a mild abrasive, as its whitening agent.
Although whitening strips, which we cover above, are the most-recommended product for at-home whitening, teeth whitening kits are popular because they tend to have more dramatic and more even results. That's because their two-part system -- which consists of trays that you fill with gel and place on your teeth -- gets in between your teeth to give fuller coverage. 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.
What's not in dispute is how effectively and quickly our top pick brightens your smile. The Rembrandt 2-Hour Whitening Kit (Est. $20) 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 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. Again, this may be due to a higher concentration of whitening agent, 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. $12) 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 reviews for something that, to be fair, isn't really the product's fault as all teeth whiteners will 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.
If you don't want the mess of trays, Plus White also makes a product that you just "paint" on your teeth, Plus White 5 Minute Bleach Whitening Gel (Est. $10 for 3 oz. tube). While gels aren't a top choice of most people, and there aren't a lot of choices in gels, plenty of reviewers say they like not having to stick strips to their teeth or to deal with the messiness of trays. They also say they can apply the gel and whiten "on the go" without anyone knowing that they're doing so. Quite a few users leave the gel on longer than the minimum of 5 minutes for greater effectiveness; up to 30 minutes is fine, according to the manufacturer.
Elsewhere in this report: