Everything you need to know (we're talking pros, cons, and what it will cost you) about the best ways to whiten your teeth
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Pros: Perhaps the easiest teeth whitening method (you need to brush your teeth anyway, right?), this is an especially good option for maintaining an already white smile. For best results, check the ingredient panel and look for a formula that contains hydrogen peroxide, the active ingredient that actually bleaches teeth, says Pia L. Lieb, DDS Cosmetic Dentistry. (Many only contain silica, an abrasive ingredient that will scrub off stains, but won't actually whiten, she adds.) This option is also extremely wallet-friendly, and very unlikely to cause sensitivity.
Cons: Don't expect dramatic results. "Toothpaste alone is typically not strong enough to achieve a noticeably whiter smile," says Brian Kantor, cosmetic dentist practicing in New York. "It's best used in conjunction with other at‐home whitening products or as a follow up to an in‐office whitening treatment to help maintain results," he says.
Tip: Follow with an at-home whitening rinse (again, look for one with hydrogen peroxide) for a one-two whitening punch.
Teeth Whitening Strips
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Pros: "These effectively whiten teeth because the bleach remains in contact with the tooth structure long enough to deliver results," says Kantor. Adds Lieb, "Strips offer the best bang for your buck, since they can leave teeth anywhere between three to seven shades lighter." They're also easy to use and widely available.
Cons: Because everyone's teeth are shaped slightly differently, the uniform shape of the strip can lead to small gaps where it doesn't make direct contact with the teeth, says Lieb. "They're also short and often only cover the first six teeth or so, which may cause a noticeable change in color between those and the ones further towards the back of your mouth," she says.
Tip: If you're using strips that are meant to be worn daily for a few weeks, try to avoid staining foods and beverages (common culprits: coffee, tea, berries, soy sauce) during that entire time period, in order to avoid counteracting any of the whitening effects.
Brush-On Gels and Whitening Pens
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Pros: These offer more control, allowing you to precisely reach and coat every tooth for an evenly white smile. Plus, you simply apply and go; no need to wait or rinse.
Cons: Some can taste slightly funny, says Lieb, and, because those marketed for daily use contain only a low amount of hydrogen peroxide, results are minimal.
Tip: Don't forget to apply the product in between your teeth. Staining in the crevices can lead to an overall dingy appearance, even if the fronts of your teeth are white.
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Pros: Most of the at-home gadgets work by combining a hydrogen peroxide based gel with some kind of light; the heat from the light activates the hydrogen peroxide, explains Lieb. The upshot? These work faster than other over-the-counter methods, and can often deliver slightly more dramatic results.
Cons: Using these can be a bit cumbersome, since with many you can't do anything else while you hold the light to your mouth. This is also the priciest of the at-home options.
Tip: Begin a whitening regimen after a professional cleaning; the less plaque and gunk on your teeth, the better the results.
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Pros: You'll get the best results by far from a professional treatment, which can leave teeth up to 12 shades lighter, according to Lieb. Credit a much higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide: "Most in-office procedures use about 35 percent, while over-the-counter options typically contain about seven to 10 percent," says Kantor. Plus, you'll just need one session, and some work in as quickly as 20 minutes.
Cons: The pricey treatments can put a dent in your wallet, and the high level of hydrogen peroxide may increase the likelihood of sensitivity for some.
Tip: If you're prone to sensitivity, taking over-the-counter ibuprofen prior to treatment can help minimize the likelihood of any painful zingers during or after, says Lieb.