Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for best teeth whitening gel

You want to present a clean, healthy, and vibrant smile to the world. That's hard to do if your teeth are yellowed and stained. Discolored teeth act as a social liability: it appears that if you do not care for your teeth, your whole body hygiene may leave much to be desired. If your teeth are yellowed or stained and you seek a whiter, brighter smile, you have two options: at-home care or in-office teeth bleaching. The latter option can be quite pricey.

The good news is, you can get rid of the embarrassment of yellowed or stained teeth by using an affordable teeth whitening gel at home. These products have surged in popularity in recent years, and it’s not surprising. As people discover how confident and happy they feel with a brighter, whiter smile, they become repeat customers.

If you are ready for a sparkling smile, read on to learn more about teeth whitening options. When you are ready to purchase a whitening gel, consider our recommendations.

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In-office treatments provide the fastest teeth whitening results, but they also cost the most.

Key considerations

All types of toothpaste help remove discoloration and surface stains. Some whitening toothpastes also contain gentle chemical or polishing agents for additional help with stain removal. But toothpaste only removes surface stains; it cannot permeate the enamel or the substance just beneath it, known as dentin. An effective teeth whitening gel can remove stains in both of these layers.

Extrinsic vs. intrinsic staining

Teeth whitening products work on two basic types of stains: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic stains are those found on the surface of the enamel. As we’ve said, toothpaste is quite effective at lightening or removing extrinsic stains, but it cannot reach and remove stains that are beneath the enamel. These stains are known as intrinsic stains. They are inside the tooth and show through the enamel.

Teeth whitening gels work well for individuals with healthy gums and unrestored teeth (no fillings or crowns). However, teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure with a measure of risk, and it’s not recommended for everyone. See our list of tips to find out more about who shouldn’t use a teeth whitening gel.

The key ingredient

Teeth whitening gels contain an active whitening ingredient: hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide penetrates tooth enamel and dentin to get to the discoloration. It interacts with stain molecules, disrupting the chemical bond and ultimately leading to whiter, brighter teeth. Contrary to popular belief, it is dentin, not enamel, that teeth whitening gels target. Enamel is translucent; dentin makes up the bulk of your overall tooth color or shade, which dentists describe as A1, A2, or A3, depending on the degree of discoloration.

At home

Over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening products contain from 3% to 20% hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (also known as urea). People with sensitive teeth may find carbamide peroxide to be a gentler alternative to hydrogen peroxide.

At the dentist’s office

In-office tooth whitening systems contain from 15% to 43% peroxide. In one session, the teeth may be lightened from five to ten shades. Whitening that is performed at your dentist’s office can help you achieve brighter, whiter teeth faster. That’s because the in-office solution is much stronger than products designed for home use. Also, ultraviolet light, heat, or a combination of the two may be used to intensify and speed up the whitening process.

How long it lasts

Once you stop using a whitening gel, your teeth will begin to show discoloration again — usually within a month. The degree to which wine, coffee, tea, soda, and other foods can stain your teeth depends on the porosity of your enamel. People who avoid beverages and foods that stain and also brush their teeth after every meal can likely go six months to a year between gel treatments.

Cautions and concerns

Usually, the longer you use a strong peroxide solution on your teeth, the whiter they become. However, don’t get carried away: the greater the concentration of peroxide, the less time you should leave it on your teeth. Keeping the whitening gel on longer than recommended dehydrates teeth and leads to increased sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity may last for several days if hydrogen peroxide penetrates past the dentin into the pulp of the tooth. Normally, the sensitivity goes away in just a few days. However, a small percentage of consumers report irreversible damage.


Format: Over-the-counter teeth whitening gels come in several forms. You might choose a handy pocket pen containing gel and a brush for ease of application. You might choose a set of trays which you fill with gel and place in your mouth. You might choose strips that are saturated with gel; the strips adhere to the teeth and stay there for a number of minutes while the peroxide works its magic. You can also purchase syringes filled with gel; often, these are refill products intended to be used with a particular whitening system, such as a tray system. Before you purchase a product, be sure to read the specifications so you know what to expect.

Expiration date: High-quality teeth whitening gels have an expiration date printed on the packaging. The gel you use should be fresh so the product has not had time to break down. Gel should be sold in moisture-proof, air-tight packaging that does not allow light to penetrate. Don’t use a whitening gel from a package that has expired, a package that appears to have been opened, or a package that looks otherwise damaged.

Satisfaction guarantee: Look for a teeth whitening gel with a satisfaction, money-back guarantee. Try several brands until you find the one that works best for your unique dental challenges.

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Did you know?
Bleaching will not lighten or brighten composite tooth-colored fillings or bondings, nor will it whiten porcelain crowns.

Teeth whitening gel prices

Teeth whitening gel kits in the lower price range tend to have a lower percentage of peroxide. Whitening gels in this price range sell for $13 to $20 for a kit that contains 10 applications. You’ll save money on a kit like this, but bear in mind that the concentration of active ingredients may be low, so your results may be less dramatic.

Brand name tooth whitening gel kits in the medium-price range cost from $20 to $50 for a five-application kit. This is a definite price jump, but you are more likely to be satisfied with the results.

Individuals seeking the highest-quality over-the-counter teeth whitening products should expect to pay from $50 to $130 for a five-application kit. This may seem like a splurge but remember that in-office treatments can cost upwards of $1,850 for a full-mouth treatment.

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Expert Tip
When using over-the-counter teeth whitening gels, expect to see minor results in a few days. Optimum results can be seen in about four months.


  • Follow the instructions on the package to a tee. For example, if you will be wearing a tray, do so as the manufacturer (and/or your dentist) recommends. Trays are typically worn from a couple of hours daily or during the night for up to four weeks to obtain the desired results.
  • Some people should not use teeth whitening gel. This includes children under the age of 16, women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant, lactating women, and persons with sensitive teeth, bleeding gums, receding gums, or defective restorations.
  • Individuals with allergies to hydrogen peroxide should avoid using a tooth bleaching agent.
  • If you have dental cavities, get them repaired before using a teeth whitening gel.

Other products we considered

The Bestidy Teeth Whitening Pen is gentle, effective, and safe for daily use. The pen contains a 35% concentration of carbamide peroxide, which is perfect for sensitive teeth. It’s compact and portable; you can carry it in your purse or pocket if you choose. Each pen provides more than 20 applications.

Infused with vitamin B-12, the Cali White Vegan Whitening Toothpaste is a minty, mouth-refreshing toothpaste that contains no artificial chemicals. Because this toothpaste is pure and natural, it is considered safe for children and women who are pregnant or lactating. Note that this product is not a bleaching gel, but it is a great alternative to a gel.

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While it is much less expensive to bleach your teeth at home, before you try OTC tooth-bleaching products, be sure to consult your dentist. Not everyone will achieve good results.


Q. What is the difference between carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide?
Teeth whitening is effectively accomplished with either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. There is little difference between the results rendered by the two. Hydrogen peroxide on its own is an excellent whitening agent. Carbamide peroxide, also effective, contains hydrogen peroxide in a ratio of 1:3. In other words, a product with 30% carbamide peroxide contains about 10% hydrogen peroxide.

Q. I have sensitive teeth, so I’m going to opt for a gel containing carbamide peroxide. Because different brands have different amounts of peroxide in their formulas, how do I know which strength is right for me?
Clinical grades of teeth whitening gel contain 22% carbamide peroxide. This is a medium-strength formula, ideal for individuals with tooth sensitivity seeking a gel that is neither too strong nor too weak. You may wish to start here and cut back if you still experience sensitivity.

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