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Nothing delivers confidence like a mouth full of pearly whites. But good dental hygiene can only do so much — sometimes stains get on our teeth and stay there, and we need some extra help restoring our teeth to their former glory from the best teeth whitening products.
Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have teeth like a Hollywood star. With the best whitening toothpaste, you can leave yellowing and dark stains behind for good. Whitening toothpastes have all the benefits for your teeth that regular toothpaste does, with the addition of whitening agents that bring back lost shine and whiten up teeth that have seen better days.
But if you’ve never used toothpaste for whitening before, you might have questions about how effective they are, how they work and, most importantly, whether or not they’re harmful to teeth.
We had those questions, so we reached out to Dr. Matt Nejad, a biomimetic and esthetic dentist in Beverly Hills, Calif., and expert on all things dentistry. He explained how the best whitening toothpaste works, what the risks are, alternatives to whitening toothpastes and what not to use to whiten your teeth.
How Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?
Whitening toothpaste works primarily in two ways, Nejad said. Some focus on lifting extrinsic stains through abrasives, like washing a T-shirt with detergent, while others attempt to chemically whiten intrinsic stains, like bleaching a T-shirt.
In the first sense, most toothpastes are whitening toothpastes in that they get rid of surface stains. But whitening toothpastes use stronger abrasives than ordinary toothpastes to achieve a stronger polish, resulting in whiter teeth. In the second sense, the best whitening toothpastes are substantively different because they use active whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide.
Nejad noted that both can work to whiten teeth, but that the chemical kinds of toothpastes likely don’t have as much time to be effective because the toothpaste is quickly washed out. To get scientific with it, these kinds of whitening products need time to enter the tooth through the tubules (basically pores for teeth) to reach the dentin, the middle layer of the tooth underneath the enamel.
That means chemical whitening toothpastes may be effective, but they’re not necessarily optimal when compared to more intensive whitening methods. At the same time, taking a chemical whitening approach instead of a scrubbing, abrasive approach could be better for long-term teeth health. The choice ultimately boils down to personal preference, Nejad said.
Can It Be Harmful to Teeth or Cause Sensitivity?
The short answers are no and yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Nejad said the best toothpastes for whitening are perfectly fine as a daily substitute for less abrasive toothpastes, but the switch does come with small risks over the long term. Because the toothpastes are more abrasive and not developed for long-term use, you can develop sensitive areas over a five to 10 year period, Nejad said. If people are already starting with thin enamel due to clenching or grinding, they likely already have some sensitivity that the toothpaste can exacerbate.
That’s why, if you’re serious about getting whiter teeth, Nejad recommends going for a hydrogen peroxide treatment for whitening (e.g. trays) because, on balance, it will give more whitening with less risk of long-term damage from using a highly abrasive toothpaste every day. Though many people will never experience any kind of damage from the best whitening toothpaste, Nejad said, they should know the risks. “It’s about knowing the downside. I love energy drinks. They’re not good for you, but you can use them every day,” Nejad said. “As long as you know [using a whitening toothpaste] will lead to a higher chance of problems and you’re willing to take the risk, it’s on you.”
What Shouldn’t I Use To Whiten My Teeth?
When it comes to whitening, you’ll want to avoid charcoal powder and oils, Nejad said.
Charcoal powder may be the trendy new dental item, but it can be way too abrasive, depending on how it’s made. “It’s not bleaching or changing the color of the tooth, and it doesn’t have the chemistry to change the color,” Nejad said. He added that it could turn out OK but it’s risky because it’s not well regulated, meaning some charcoal powders could turn out way too abrasive for teeth. “Nobody sticks with it. I don’t know anybody who has stuck with it,” Nejad added.
He also discouraged brushes from trying oils such as coconut oil because there’s no scientific or established basis to use them. “Some people use coconut oils or essential oils, but none are substantiated. [The active ingredient] needs to be abrasive or peroxide-based,” Nejad said.
What Else Can I Use in Addition To the Best Whitening Toothpaste?
For whiter teeth, Nejad also recommended whitening trays and a good whitening mouthwash. The former allows hydrogen peroxide to actually penetrate into the tooth’s dentin, intrinsically whitening it. Mouthwash also gives whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide a chance to foam and bubble a bit more than toothpaste, which can make them more effective.
Now that we know a bit more about whitening toothpaste, check out a few of the best options below. We made our picks based on our own experiences using them as well as with some input from Nejad. No toothpaste below will yield results overnight, but it will whiten and brighten your teeth over time and ensure they look clean and polished in the months between dental appointments.
1. Crest 3D White Radiant Mint Whitening Toothpaste
The Crest 3D White Radiant Mint Whitening Toothpaste has a powerful formula designed to remove 80-90% of surface stains beginning with the very first brush. With sodium fluoride and hydrated silica, the toothpaste is formulated to strengthen enamel, protect against cavities and leave your teeth whiter, brighter, stronger and generally healthier. The enamel-safe fluoride also helps seal teeth and prevent future stains from setting in.
If you’re not sure where to start, this is one of the two toothpastes Nejad said he regularly comes back to with patients.
2. Colgate Optic White Renewal High Impact White Whitening Toothpaste
Colgate Optic White is another go-to for us and Nejad. The Colgate Optic White Renewal High Impact White Whitening Toothpaste adds 3% hydrogen peroxide into the formula for deeper whitening inside and out. The sodium monofluorophosphate keeps the toothpaste enamel-safe and works as an anti-plaque and anti-cavity as well.
If you’ve tried other whitening toothpastes and aren’t seeing the results you want, Colgate Optic White will be the best whitening toothpaste for you. The extra kick of hydrogen peroxide can definitely help with consistent usage.
Colgate Optic White Renewal High Impact White Whitening Toothpaste
3. Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste
BEST FOR SENSITIVE TEETH
Sensodyne has branded itself as the toothpaste for sensitive teeth and as regular users, we can confirm it definitely lives up to that promise.
The Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste does everything it’s supposed to in fighting cavities, cleaning, combating bad breath and keeping your teeth healthy. Potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride work to numb sensitive areas, strengthen enamel and give your teeth a barrier that protects against pain triggers like extreme cold, heat, acids and sweets.
Speaking personally, I’ve used this toothpaste daily for years because my teeth have an enamel deficiency. Switching to it was like night and day comfort-wise, and it’s easily the best toothpaste for sensitive teeth and gentle whitening.
4. Arm & Hammer Advanced White Extreme Whitening Toothpaste
CLASSIC WHITENING TOOTHPASTE
Baking soda and peroxide are traditional whitening agents for a reason — they work, and Arm & Hammer is still using a finessed version of that formula to this day. The Arm & Hammer Advanced White Extreme Whitening Toothpaste is made with baking soda that whitens and brightens while also eliminating stains and preventing them from setting. The baking soda also neutralizes the acids in the everyday foods we eat so they don’t erode our enamel over time. This toothpaste also has fluoride in it for cavity protection, and it’s boosted with peroxide that amplifies the whitening power.
5. Bite Fresh Mint Toothpaste Bits
We’ve all got to do our part to protect this planet we live on, and swapping out products you use daily is a great way to do that. These toothpaste bits in a glass jar eliminate the need for plastic tubes and the formula is made with vegan ingredients that keep teeth healthy without polluting oceans. These bits take a little bit to get used to, but once you start you’ll never go back to the paste again. They’re naturally whitening, remineralizing for tooth enamel and help fight tooth sensitivity as well.
6. Davids Natural Whitening Toothpaste
GREAT NATURAL WHITENING TOOTHPASTE
Davids Natural Whitening Toothpaste leans into natural, vegan, abrasive ingredients (with zero preservatives or artificial flavors) to whiten teeth, fight plaque and remove stains.
The toothpaste has a creamy texture that’s not gritty and is flavored with a blend of mint oils. It’s EWG Verified for being 98% made in the U.S. in terms of its manufacturing and the supply of its ingredients. It also comes in a fully recyclable metal tube with a squeezer so you get every last drop.
7. Crest + Scope Complete Whitening Toothpaste
This toothpaste costs about $0.65/ounce, which amounts to major savings over some of the other brands. This toothpaste combines the power of Crest with Scope, the mouthwash, for a cleaning and whitening hybrid experience. The toothpaste combats bad breath with Scope and fights cavities with Crest. It removes stains from teeth gently so it’s not as aggressive with the whitening as other brands, but if you’re aiming for general teeth wellness and whiteness, it’s a great way to go.
8. Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Fluoride Mouthwash
BEST WHITENING MOUTHWASH
When it comes to whitening teeth, having a full arsenal can only help. Nejad said the Listerine Healthy White Vibrant Fluoride Mouthwash can dissolve surface stains, brightening teeth, thanks to the hydrogen peroxide. As a fluoride mouthwash, it also promotes good enamel health, keeping your teeth strong and less prone to staining.
Frequently Asked Questions About Whitening Toothpaste
Whitening toothpaste usually uses one of two ingredients to get teeth whiter — peroxide of some sort that break down and dissolve stains or abrasives like silica that polish the teeth and remove the stains from the surface. Whitening toothpastes don't work instantly and typically don't dramatically change teeth immediately, but slowly improve the surface appearance of teeth over time.
Whitening toothpaste typically doesn't work instantly. Experts say that if you brush with whitening toothpaste twice a day it can take anywhere from two to six weeks for teeth to get whiter. There are some whitening toothpastes, namely those that contain an ingredient called covarine, that can work quicker. However, you'll want to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully because some harsher whitening toothpastes can weaken enamel.
Check the label! If it's got a seal of approval from the American Dental Association you're good to go. This seal is regulated and indicates a product is safe to use as directed. As always, make sure you read the label and instructions carefully before implementing it into your routine.