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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.

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