Do Over-the-Counter Tooth Whitening Products Really Work?

by | Jun 17, 2021 | Cosmetic Dentistry


Smile brightening is one of the simplest ways of looking younger. This is because teeth tend to darken with age, not just from stains but because enamel tends to thin. More of the darker dentin below it shows through, making teeth look gray or yellowish.

before and after tooth whiteningHaving that whitening done by a dental professional can yield the best results. We can make sure the final tooth shade is a good aesthetic match (no “chicklet teeth”). We can better protect the soft tissues of your mouth, minimizing side effects such as tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. We can more thoroughly clean your teeth in advance to improve results.

Still, many opt for the convenience of DIY products you can buy online or at your local grocery or big box store. But are they actually effective? That’s the focus of a new review in the Brazilian Dental Journal.

Twenty-four previous studies were included, nearly all of which were randomized clinical trials. All compared products either to a placebo, no treatment, or other products. These included whitening toothpastes, strips, and paint-on gels but not whitening chewing gum or dentist-prescribed home kits.

Whitening strips proved most effective, with two good quality studies showing as much (out of 7 total that evaluated strips). More, as dentist Dr. Teresa Yang noted over on DrBicuspid,

One of those studies showed that a lower hydrogen peroxide concentration used for an extended time had better results than a higher-concentration strip applied for a shorter time.

Furthermore, several studies indicated that whitening strips were just as effective as carbamide peroxide trays. However, two of the studies used the carbamide peroxide trays in an abbreviated protocol of 30 minutes, twice a day.

Carbamide peroxide gels are slow-release — half of the peroxide is released initially and the rest over two to six hours, allowing for better oxidation of the organic matrix. The abbreviated application times may not have given the carbamide peroxide its full potential.

Whitening toothpastes didn’t do as well, although they were found to remove surface stains more than non-whitening pastes – or placebo, for that matter. (Note, however, that many whitening toothpastes can be too abrasive, potentially damaging teeth.)

And while there wasn’t much evidence regarding the effectiveness of paint-on gels, Dr. Yang also noted in her commentary that, “in comparative studies, whitening strips prove superior to gels. Unlike gels, the strips act as a barrier and a reservoir for the whitening agent.”

home tooth whitening kitStill, as effective as those strips can be, they still may not quite measure up to a dentist-prescribed home kit, at least according to another review of the science published last year in Operative Dentistry. An analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials that directly compared whitening strips to dentist-supervised whitening (at home or in office) led its authors to conclude that

dentist-supervised at-home bleaching led to a better color change when measured with a spectrophotometer, although the color alteration was undetectable by unaided human eyes.

Here in our Arlington office, we provide safe and effective whitening options both in-office and with kits you can use at home. More, we offer a variety of non-invasive laser treatments that can further enhance your more youthful appearance by tapping into your body’s own regenerative abilities to smooth out lines and wrinkles on your face – no injections, no fillers, no sutures involved.

With summer here – and a return to something closer to the kind of socializing we used to know before the pandemic – now’s the perfect time to improve your appearance with the kind of holistic cosmetic dentistry we have to offer.

Whitening kit image by Electric Teeth

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