The Best Teeth Whitening Products for Brighter and Whiter Teeth
Let’s face it: as you age, your teeth will get darker. Whether due to coffee, wine, cigarettes or just Father Time himself, sooner or later most people will look in the mirror and wish for whiter teeth. Luckily, there’s no better time to head down that road then now — dozens of products and procedures are available to the individual looking to make their pearly whites a little (or a lot) more dazzling. But all these choices can be confusing. We’re going to take a look at the best teeth whitening products and procedures on the market today and help you sort your way into a beautiful, brighter smile.
Why Do Teeth Darken?
It seems like a natural thing. Look at the smile of a person much over 24 or so and you’ll likely notice their teeth aren’t as white as the actors’ teeth you see on TV. This is due to two things: first, TV personalities usually have veneers or other cosmetic dentistry to make their teeth look impossible white. Second, teeth get darker over time. The enamel of our teeth ages and cracks, allowing substances to get in the cracks and darken. In addition to age, there are a couple of other factors that affect a person’s tooth colour.
The first and most common reason is due to the things we eat. Generally, darker foods will darken a person’s teeth. Coffee, wine, cola, tea and cigarettes are the most frequent culprits, mostly due to the presence of tannins and other stain-causing substances. However, hard candy, berries, tomato sauce, grapes, pomegranates, hot fudge, barbecue sauce and other darker foods all play a role in the yellowing of one’s teeth.
While this can be prevented and reduced by controlling what you eat and avoiding the things that can increase staining, the next point can’t — genetics. If you’re like me and have genetically soft teeth, then yellower teeth may be a fact of life for you. Despite trying to avoid tannin-laden foods, people with a genetic predisposition to yellow teeth will have a harder trek on the path to white teeth.
The last factor in yellower teeth is connected to your medical history. Unfortunately, dark teeth caused by medical issues are the least likely to be affected by teeth whitening, no matter the cost or complexity. The following are a few of the issues that might cause a person problems in the search for whiter teeth:
- Too much exposure to fluoride at an early age, either through fluorinated water or excessive fluoride rinse or oral products.
- Use of tetracycline or doxycycline by your mother during her pregnancy.
- Use of either one of those antibiotics when you were younger than eight.
- Use of certain antihistamines, high blood pressure or antipsychotic medications.
- Chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
- Trauma to a permanent tooth, causing internal bleeding inside the tooth.
- Trauma to a developing tooth when young, permanently damaging the tooth.
There are a few other rare causes but, as you can see, the list is pretty long. If any of these are the case, be sure to discuss them with a dentist before undergoing any teeth whitening procedures. You could be just wasting time and money on something that won’t work. Your dentist will be able to guide you to more effective treatments.
Why Whiten Your Teeth At All?
It’s not hard to understand. Teeth generally darken as we get older, so if someone has whiter teeth, others will think they are younger than they are.
What was surprising in the studies was the fact that not only were people with whiter teeth perceived to be younger, they were also thought to be richer, better educated and have better employment opportunities. All from having whiter teeth.
Of course, this is all perception. Just whitening your teeth isn’t going to get you a better job, a fatter wallet or make you instantly smarter. But one of the regular side effects of whiter teeth is increased confidence, something that can have ripple effects into every facet of one’s life.
Considerations When Choosing a Teeth Whitening Product
First off, each individual’s situation is unique and, whether you are thinking about whitening toothpaste or strips or going full-on with the Zoom, its best if you talk to your dentist first. They will have the clearest idea about your teeth and your teeth health. Sure, many dentists will likely be professionally aligned with one procedure or another, but it’s a starting point.
That aside, here are the basic circumstances you’ll need to consider when choosing a teeth whitening product or procedure.
Everything takes time and getting your chompers back to their youthful brightness is no different. Natural methods (activated charcoal, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste) are going to take the longest but are the cheapest. Whitening toothpaste and strips will take more time but will probably get better results than natural methods.
See where this is going?
If you’ve got the time, you can save money and take longer. If you don’t have the time, then you’ll need to spend more money. You’ll get better results that will last longer and you’ll get them fast. But it’ll cost you.
This is the flip side of the time coin. If you’ve got between $500 and a grand to spend and want the whitest teeth you can get, then going for the Zoom or SmartLight at the dentist’s office might be the best choice as long as your teeth can handle it.
Alternatively, if you’ve got little money, then you’re looking at other methods that will cost less and obviously take more time. The tray devices are a good choice in this situation. They run anywhere from a little less than $100 for the ones you pick up online to around $400 for the ones you get at the dentist with a custom-molded tray. It can take up to two weeks, but if you can’t pony up for the full-on dental visit you have little choice.
The last two levels of choice are, of course, whitening toothpaste, strips and natural methods. You’ll get results, but it will take longer and won’t be as brilliant as the other two methods. But hey, if you ain’t got the scratch, you ain’t got the scratch, right?
Do you want all your teeth to shine like a diamond? Or is there a couple that are much darker than the rest?
If you’re targeting a few bad’uns in your grill, then you’re gonna have to pay the price. Virtually all the teeth whitening products on the market are designed to whiten all the teeth together. I mean, I guess you could trim the whitening strips to pieces and wrap them only on the darkest teeth, but I pretty much guarantee it’s not going to turn out like you hope it will. The SmartBleach KTP can target individual teeth to a degree but it is quite expensive.
If, however, you’re in the same boat as the majority of people and are looking for a general whitening of your teeth, then you’re in luck: you’ll need to find the right balance between cost and time. Oh, and sensitivity.
Do you always use a straw when drinking anything cold? Avoid ice cream because it just hurts too much? Can’t drink coffee because it stings your teeth?
Congratulations. Like many people, you’ve got sensitive teeth.
Unfortunately for those looking for super-white teeth, sensitivity can limit or entirely remove many of the most effective options from the table. Each of the most effective treatments use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which breaks down to hydrogen peroxide) to penetrate the teeth. If your teeth are very sensitive, this may rule them out.
Some people have good results with using Sensodyne or another sensitivity-reducing toothpaste before and after teeth whitening treatment. If this doesn’t work for you, then you’re likely on the long slog through natural methods and avoiding anything that can darken your teeth. Believe me, it’s a long list.
All of the methods we discuss here are safe if performed by or overseen by a professional dentist.
What the heck does that mean?
It means if you go to a cut-rate shop and have somebody who was just buffing some lady’s nails slather peroxide on your teeth and then hit it with a laser, you’re going to be lucky if you don’t wind up with more trouble than you bargained for. Even if you go to a professional, there can be some risks.
But by and large, as long as your dentist is trained in the treatment procedure, you will have few, if any, troubles.
The same is said for the products you can buy at the chemist and do at your home: as long as you follow the directions you’ll likely come out the other end with whiter teeth and a nicer smile. But if you start playing fast and loose with the instructions and warnings, like leaving the gel on far longer than it says or re-doing the treatments more often than advised, there’s a chance you’ll damage your teeth. And damaged teeth are never white, are they?
The Contenders for the Crown
Okay, we’re going to spoil it a little upfront: there is no absolute best choice for whitening your teeth. It’s going to be a balance between time, cost, goals and sensitivity. Each individual’s situation is going to dictate a slightly different outcome. That being said, here are the most common teeth whitening options in all their shining glory.
These are going to be the best choices if you’re on an extremely limited budget or have incredibly sensitive teeth. While one of the options in the natural teeth whitening continuum is a hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste, there’s little chance of pain: commercially available hydrogen peroxide is a 3% concentration while the peroxide used in professional teeth whitening can hit 35% or more.
Activated charcoal, turmeric, bananas, a mix of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste, straight baking soda and a few others are the shining champs of natural methods.
But be aware: while they may whiten your teeth, they simply won’t work as well as the more concentrated methods on this list. And it’ll take a pretty long time to get to the maximum whiteness possible.
This is a commonly used method. While they may show some improvement, the truth is it’s not because the teeth are getting whiter, just cleaner. The large majority of whitening toothpastes achieve their effect due to abrasives that really clean and scrub the surface of the teeth, not because they are bleached or whitened.
That’s nothing to look down your nose at, but it also won’t brush away years of coffee staining in one or two days.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Teeth whitening strips, including ones made by Crest, Oral-B and CleverWhite, are a fairly inexpensive, quick and effective way to whiten your teeth.
Caveats: Quick is a loose term. While they may not stay on for very long at a time, some, like Crest, have a 28-day treatment plan to achieve maximum benefits. And while they will whiten your teeth, the effects not may be as long lasting as one might wish.
Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Overuse of teeth whitening strips can damage your teeth, resulting in yellower teeth than before you started. There is also some anecdotal evidence that they can be addictive. It’s mostly a psychological addiction, but it still bears mentioning.
Keep in mind: teeth whitening strips whiten teeth because of hydrogen peroxide. The greater the percentages in the strips, the greater their whitening power. Just beware of sensitivity, follow the maker’s guidelines and don’t overdo it.
At-Home Trays and Kits
This is likely to be the most effective treatment procedure you can get done short of a trip to a dentist’s office.
The standard tray kit will include a rubber tray that’s somewhat customizable, the gel that goes in it and sometimes a UV light for activating and increasing the efficacy of the gel as it works on your teeth.
There are a few concerns to note for the at-home whitening products. There’s a wide price range depending on where you get them. The ones you pick up in the store or online will run around $100 or so, maybe a little less. There’s another kind that you can get at the dentist’s office that will set you back $300–$400. What’s different?
First of all, the trays. The dentist’s office is going to provide you with custom-made and fitted trays. They will fit your teeth perfectly, requiring less gel and feeling far more comfortable.
The ones you get at the chemist have trays that you must form to your teeth, meaning you put them in boiling water for about 20 seconds, then stick them in your mouth and bite down until they mold to your teeth. While they work, they are going to be far bulkier and not as precise as the ones from the dentist.
Secondly, the gel that comes in the over-the-counter kits isn’t going to be as strong as the kind that the dentist provides. The flip side — dental sets usually don’t come with the UV lights that are increasingly common in the market.
In truth, the at-home whitening kits are the best deal around. If you want to whiten your teeth, our recommendation is to try it out with one of the many available kits. If it works for you, then you can either continue using that style at a reasonable cost, or consider upgrading to an in-office procedure.
The Zoom procedure is where things start to get interesting. Zoom uses a strong whitening gel along with a high-powered UV light to make your teeth super white. How white? Up to eight shades lighter. The best thing? It lasts for up to three years.
Now, of course, with something this powerful and long-lasting, there are a few considerations. First is the possible pain. Your dentist will need to evaluate your teeth because if they are too sensitive, the Zoom procedure can cause untold levels of pain. Even for regular people there are a few ‘zingers’. That’s the cute name they give for shooting lances of pain in your teeth.
Second is the cost. A Zoom treatment will run anywhere from $600 up to $1300 or so. But don’t run out and get the cheapest one you can find. The cheaper ones will cut out options the full-priced ones come with. Each location is different, but some will come with a cleaning, fluoride treatment, at-home touch-up treatments with custom made trays, etc.
If you’re looking for something long-lasting, don’t have super-sensitive teeth and are willing to shell out the cash, the Zoom can be a great choice.
In wide strokes, the SmartLight 3LT is fairly similar to the Zoom treatment. You go to the dentist, he takes a look at your teeth, slathers on some gel, hits it with a light and an hour later you go home.
Sure, the technology is a little different: SmartLight uses ‘Laser-Light-Like Technology’ as opposed to the UV light of the Zoom. The SmartLight can last up to 4 years, beating out the Zoom’s 3 year maximum.
The biggest difference is the price. Because SmartLight is a newer technology, you’re not going to find the big discounts that you will on the Zoom. If you go with SmartLight, prices are going to start at about $1000 and go up to the $1300 range.
Those biggies aside, there are a few other considerations: SmartLight 3LT is usually for milder stains. It’ll do a good job but the really gnarly stains are likely going to need something stronger, like the SmartBleach KTP. However, the SmartLight 3LT won’t heat up the pulp of your tooth (the living part inside your tooth) like other systems, which is often one cause of pain.
If possible, find a dentist that performs both SmartLight and Zoom treatments and see which one would be best for your mouth.
SmartBleach KTP uses the proprietary SmartBleach red gel combined with the green KTP laser-like light to create sensationally white teeth. I’m not joking, this is truly the top. Studies have been done that show it’s a fantastic way to lighten not just stained teeth, but ones that have been damaged or discoloured by medical problems or trauma. It will even whiten tetracycline-caused discolouration, one of the few options that will. Also, it does not dry out the tooth like many other whitening systems, which will cause the tooth to darken a little once it rehydrates.
The drawback? Cost, of course. SmartBleach KTP is going to run you $1300–$1500. It’s a newer technology so there aren’t going to be many bargains to be had for this treatment.
The biggest advantage of SmartBleach KTP? It can be used on one tooth. Got that one bad tooth that you smacked when you were a kid? Been told it’ll always stay like that?
Get to a dentist who offers SmartBleach KTP and see what they have to say. No promises, but you might be surprised.
As we mentioned earlier, the best teeth whitening products are going to depend primarily on the person themselves: how much time they have (or don’t have), how much money they’re willing to shell out and how sensitive their teeth are. Taking a good hard look at these criteria will guide you to the best teeth whitening products for you. Good luck!