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Buying guide for best teeth whitening kits

Shiny, white, healthy teeth: everyone wants that. While several years ago a trip to the dentist was the only way to whiten your teeth, today there are hundreds of teeth whiteners on the market for at-home use.

With so many whiteners on the shelves, how do you separate the hype from the reality? How do you find the best teeth whitening kit to restore the bright smile of your youth?

If you’re ready to purchase a teeth whitening kit, check out our five favorites in the product list above.

But if you’d like to learn more about teeth whitening in general, including how to find the right kit for you, read on.

Why do teeth turn yellow?

A yellowed or discolored smile is a common problem. There are two basic reasons why teeth change color - stains and age. Other causes of yellowed, brownish, or grayish teeth include genetics, certain medications, excessive fluoride, tooth grinding, dental trauma, and tooth decay.


Your teeth have a hard outer coating of enamel, and this enamel is prone to staining. Coffee, tea, red wine, soda, and cigarette smoke are the most common culprits, although other dark or acidic foods can also discolor teeth over time. Luckily, surface stains are the easiest discoloration to remove.


The aging process thins your dental enamel. This allows the inner layer of dentin — the hard material surrounding and protecting the pulp and root of each tooth — to show through.

Dentin is normally yellow or brown, so as your enamel thins the exposed dentin causes your teeth to appear discolored. Unfortunately, dentin cannot be lightened. You can still improve the appearance of your teeth by removing stains and lightening enamel, but you cannot change the color of your dentin.

Dentists often recommend veneers or crowns in cases where the discoloration is extreme.

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Did you know?
Yellowed teeth respond best to teeth whitening treatment, while grayish or brown teeth don’t whiten as much.

What types of teeth whitening products are available?

At-home teeth whitening

If you want to whiten your teeth at home, you have plenty of options.

  • Whitening Toothpastes

Whitening toothpastes have mild abrasives to scrub away surface stains. Their results are minimal, but they can remove light staining.

  • Whitening Gels

Whitening gels are difficult to apply precisely without a tray, but if used carefully they can be quite effective.

  • Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are convenient and easy to use. They can whiten teeth two to four shades if used regularly and precisely.

  • Whitening Kits

Whitening kits are trays that you fill with a mild hydrogen peroxide gel and then apply to your teeth for a specified length of time, generally 20 minutes to an hour per session. You can achieve good results with teeth whitening kits, often removing stains and whitening teeth up to four or more shades.

  • Whitening Mouthwashes

Whitening mouthwashes or rinses contain a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. They also give minimal results, but they are a good way to keep up on teeth whitening in between other types of treatments.

  • LED Lights

LED lights, particularly blue lights, are sometimes used in conjunction with teeth whitening kits. While there is some controversy about the effectiveness of LED light, proponents claim it makes the bleaching action of the peroxide faster and more efficient.

Professional teeth whitening

Most dentists offer a variety of teeth whitening services. In-office procedures generally make use of stronger peroxide than home kits offer, and dentists may also use ultraviolet light or lasers for further whitening. Your dentist can also create custom bleach trays for your at-home use.

Professional whitening treatments are very effective, and some are much faster than home procedures. However, they are generally quite expensive, and your dental insurance is unlikely to cover them, as whitening is usually considered a cosmetic procedure.

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Don’t overdo it. Excessive use of peroxide on your teeth can cause a bluish tint, a chalky look, or uneven spots. Always follow your teeth whitening kit’s instructions for length of use, frequency of use, and recommended time between treatments.

Should some people avoid teeth whitening kits?

While most people can safely use at-home teeth whitening kits and achieve satisfactory results, these products are not for everyone.

  • If you have gum disease such as gingivitis or periodontitis, exposed dental roots, cracked teeth, or untreated cavities, the use of a teeth whitener can cause further damage or sensitivity.

  • If your dental enamel is already thin, your dentist will probably advise against whitening your teeth.

  • If your teeth are very heavily discolored, you probably won’t achieve the results you desire from a teeth whitening kit. Your dentist can offer more long-lasting, effective options.

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use teeth whitening products. Children should not use whiteners containing peroxide.

Tips for using your teeth whitening kit

While you should always follow the manufacturer’s directions or your dentist’s instructions, these general guidelines will help you achieve the best results.

  • Brush and floss your teeth before using the teeth whitening kit.

  • Make sure the kit’s trays are dry before filling them with the peroxide solution, and never overfill the trays.

  • If applying gel directly to your teeth, use a brush and carefully cover all exposed surfaces. Keep the gel away from your gums.

  • If using strips or a tray, make sure the peroxide is in full contact with your teeth, otherwise you’ll end up with spotty results.

  • Wipe away any gel that oozes onto your gums.

  • Leave the whitening gel or strip on only for the recommended length of time. Going longer won’t give you better results and may cause tooth sensitivity or damage.

  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly after your treatment is finished.

  • Don’t eat or drink for half an hour after your treatment.

  • Stay away from common tooth stainers such as wine, soda, coffee, tea, cigarettes, and citrus for at least two days after your treatment.

  • Your teeth will be more susceptible to staining in the first couple of days after a whitening treatment, so avoid coffee, tea, cigarette smoke, red wine, citrus, and tomatoes during that time.

Don’t expect instant results. It generally requires a few treatments to get the full benefits of your at-home teeth whitening kit.


Q. Are the effects of a teeth whitening kit permanent?
Generally, no. Discoloration from coffee, wine, and other foods will eventually return unless you eliminate these items from your diet. The whitening effects of a kit will usually last anywhere from a month to nearly a year, but by touching up your teeth periodically you can maintain the whitening indefinitely.

Q. Are teeth whitening kits safe?
If used correctly, teeth whitening kits are quite safe. However, minor side effects, such as gum irritation and tooth sensitivity, are common. These side effects usually go away within a few days of discontinuing the whitening treatment. If your discomfort persists beyond that, give your dentist a call.

Q. Are at-home teeth whitening kits as good as the whitening treatments in a dentist’s office?
While you can achieve very good results with an at-home teeth whitening kit, dentists have access to higher percentages of peroxide and customized trays, along with laser and ultraviolet treatments that provide the best whitening results.

Q. How much do teeth whitening kits cost?
At-home teeth whitening kits generally range from $20 to $50. By contrast, a professional whitening treatment from your dentist can cost several hundred dollars.

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