How to whiten teeth at home, according to dentists

You probably know that smoking, drinking red wine, and eating the wrong foods are bad for your health, but they're also among the top problems that teeth whitening procedures can address. Still, few people would give up their coffee or stop eating berries for a bright smile. “People have to live,” said Dr. Marc Lowenberg, a cosmetic dentist and partner at LLK Dental in Manhattan.

In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans have whitened their teeth, and a quarter of them use over-the-counter products to do so, according to a 2022 Mintel/Greenfield Online survey.

At-home teeth whitening products are typically lower-strength versions of those used by dentists, which are essentially hydrogen peroxide, Loberg said. This weak acid oxidizes surface stains, causing them to break down (and temporarily making the teeth more porous and prone to staining, which is why extra care is needed to keep the white color after treatment). Ultraviolet (UV) or LED light can also be used to speed up this process.

While they are very safe to use and are best used with other oral hygiene products like electric toothbrushes and water flossers, at-home whitening products are not all equally effective. They are not suitable for discoloration caused by genetics or aging, where dark dentin shows through white enamel, and they may not be suitable for people with sensitive teeth, so you will need to discuss these options with your family.

It's also a good idea to choose products approved by the American Dental Association. Lowenberg says the brightest smiles come from the highest concentrations of peroxide (dentists use concentrations as high as 30 percent, while household products top out at 10 percent) that stay in contact with teeth the longest.

Even so, “there's no miracle whitening,” he says. Depending on your teeth, habits, and degree of staining, you will have to repeat the treatment regularly. However, if you're ready to show off, at-home teeth whitening products can be a simple and cost-effective way to maintain your smile between dental appointments. Here are the products experts think are the best.

“I personally always recommend a two-step approach using whitening toothpaste and/or gel/strips for the best at-home results,” says Dr. Lauren Becker, a general and cosmetic dentist in New York City. “This toothpaste is ADA approved and contains ingredients that help whiten teeth without damaging them.”

This whitening toothpaste contains 2% hydrogen peroxide to remove stains and fluoride to prevent cavities. “It is one of the least abrasive products on the market, is gentler on tooth wear, and is less likely to exacerbate tooth recession and sensitivity,” says Dr. Alice Hoang, dentist and founder of Brooklyn Mint Dental.

Dr. Lena Varone, a cosmetic dentist at the Center for Cosmetic Dentistry in New York, says this toothpaste uses microparticles to prevent surface stains from building up on enamel while remaining gentle on enamel. It also contains fluoride, which can help prevent cavities and minimize sensitivity if you have cavities.

While this vitamin C-infused toothpaste is a new addition to the whitening scene, it claims to be free of peroxides and artificial flavors. While it does claim to remove color from stain molecules, we particularly love its minty citrus scent. It's especially useful for younger brushers who aren't ready for more abrasive products.

This mint breath freshener is a great choice for cleaning and whitening while protecting your teeth. Hoang likes that the product was originally formulated as an oral rinse by a dentist, so there's some expertise behind it.

To maintain a bright, white smile, Dr. Kevin Sanders, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, California, recommends this mouthwash, which freshens breath and prevents future stains.

Crest 3D Whitestrips are unanimously loved by our experts. They're easy to use and effective for at-home whitening, Lowenberg says, mainly because they're in contact with the teeth for a long time.

Becker says this version of the brand's favorite is a good choice if you have sensitive teeth. It whitens teeth while protecting enamel for a painless experience.

For anyone looking for a natural, peroxide-free alternative, Hoang says the strips are made with plant-based materials and contain no preservatives, additives, artificial dyes or flavors.

Whitening pens are a great option for treating teeth on the go, and Hoang likes this one, which contains over 5% hydrogen peroxide. “It's the perfect combination of portability, ease of use and effectiveness,” she said.

Sands recommends this pen to patients due to the brand's reputation and the product's high performance. Its active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, a common and effective teeth whitener that he says can help break down and remove surface stains on teeth, making them look whiter.

Sands also loves this pen for touch-ups on the go. It's enamel safe and good for sensitive teeth, while also removing stubborn stains with ease. The aluminum pen is stylish and makes it easy to apply the whitening gel anywhere for touch-ups.

“This kit is my favorite over-the-counter whitening product that gives patients visible results within a week without breaking the bank,” says Becker. This kit includes whitening toothpaste to help remove plaque and avoid tooth sensitivity, and peroxide whitening gel to help brighten your smile. This combo has everything you need for a dazzling smile, and it's super convenient. “White strips can be bulky, annoying, and require consistency and time,” says Becker. “This all only takes two minutes and you should already be brushing your teeth.”

The dissolvable whitening patches in the kit are the choice of our beauty editor Sophie Shaw, who says they're “a low-maintenance product that really works.” There's no need to remove them as they dissolve on your teeth, making them perfect for overnight whitening. Combined with the LED tray for quicker activation of the whitener, this kit is a great choice.

This easy-to-use kit includes whitening gel and an applicator to apply to teeth, as well as a curved LED light that attaches to teeth to activate the gel and enhance whitening benefits. Prolonged contact with teeth produces visible results in as little as 30 minutes after each use.

For a complete whitening experience, Sands recommends this kit, which combines LED technology with whitening gel for professional-grade results at home. If you have sensitive teeth, the whitening agent in this kit is gentle on enamel. The kit includes an LED mouthpiece and three whitening wands, and comes with a two-year warranty.

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