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There’s no shortage of us who’ve attempted—or at least seriously considered—an at-home teeth whitening product. The proof is in the pudding: These products work, and they work fast. But fast is only good if it also means safe. You need to know the risks and protocol for something that involves stripping away protective tooth enamel. Luckily, in teeth whitening, you can get plenty of gain without any pain—even with the best at-home teeth whitening products.
Each DIY whitening product has its own rules for application and length of wear, but there is some universality to it. Beyond familiarizing yourself with your product’s specific instructions, it’s smart to understand a few other basic tenets of at-home teeth whitening, too. So, before we spotlight the most reliable at-home teeth whiteners, we got a little intel from Dr. Michael Apa of Apa Aesthetic on the topic. Dr. Apa is one of the most in-demand cosmetic and facial aesthetic dentists, with offices in NYC, LA and Dubai He also has his own lineup of whitening and brightening oral care products, Apa Beauty. He answered some of Robb Report’s biggest questions about teeth whitening, sharing plenty of expertise in the process.
What are the biggest risks of whitening teeth at home?
If you have loss of enamel, chips, cracks or underlying dental issues—like cavities—then whitening will cause increased sensitivity. You also want to watch for gum damage. Even mild whitening formulas can burn gum tissue. In-office, we’re able to isolate the gums, so that doesn’t happen. If you have underlying white spots (hypocalcifications), whitening will make those spots even more pronounced, but just for a few days.
Between those at-home sessions, how often should someone visit a dentist to have their teeth cleaned and professionally whitened?
To achieve and maintain maximum brightness, I recommend a professional cleaning and in-house whitening (done back-to-back) every six months, and then monthly at-home whitening touchups. Here’s why I like this combination: The cleaning removes any plaque and tartar, so that the bleach can more easily get to work. In-house whitening typically offers a higher concentration of bleach (since it is regulated by dentists), so it’s perfect for that initial boost, leaving you responsible for simple at-home maintenance.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when whitening at home?
The biggest mistake is diving in before testing the product. No two smiles are alike, so just because your friend sleeps in whitening gel without pain or consequences doesn’t mean that will work for you. Ease in and see how your teeth respond. It’s also important to nail the application. The whitening agent should only be applied to the teeth. You don’t want it sitting on your gums.
What are your tips for whitening sensitive teeth?
If prone to sensitivity, take Tylenol before whitening. Use toothpaste and mouth rinse with hydroxyapatite or fluoride; potassium nitrate is also good for sensitivity and found in pastes like Sensodyne. Use products with carbamide peroxide (instead of hydrogen peroxide). Carbamide peroxide is slower acting but yields less sensitivity.
What are the most imperative rules for preserving brightness immediately after a whitening?
For 48 hours after bleaching, teeth are especially porous and can easily re-stain, so avoid food and drink that’s rich in pigment—like red wine or turmeric.
And what long-term tips do you have for maintaining brightness?
Using a sonic toothbrush is a must. Replace the brush head every three months and stick with soft bristles. When it comes to toothpaste, look for the ingredient hydroxyapatite to prevent demineralization and rebuild tooth enamel. (Teeth are made up of hydroxyapatite, so it’s naturally restorative). Using gum gel twice a day will decrease inflammation and promote cellular regeneration for healthy pink gums and an overall fresh and bright smile. [And of course], See your dentist every six months, at least, for a check-up and cleaning.
The Best At-Home Teeth Whiteners
Apa Beauty Apa White Duo
From Dr. Apa himself, this pack of 10 strips and a whitening pen deliver a dynamic, professional-caliber result in under a week. They’re terrific for sensitive teeth since they both use carbamide peroxide instead of hydrogen peroxide. Use the strips for 90 minutes a day, five days in a row for best results.
Crest 3D Whitestrips
It’s nearly impossible to make a list of the best teeth whiteners and not include Crest near the top. Lots of people have used them—and many get noticeable results, fast. They use hydrogen peroxide, so they’re a little harsher on sensitive teeth, but nearly 10,000 five-star reviews on Amazon confirm they’re an accessible and effective choice.
hismile PAP+ Whitening Strips
Powered by phthalimidoperoxycaproic acid, or PAP, hismile’s strips in fact bleach the teeth (sans hydrogen peroxide) by breaking down stain molecules at the surface and on those embedded in the teeth. And, it does so without any damage or sensitivity to the gums, and deposits naturally occurring hydroxyapatite into the teeth to reveal a healthy, bright smile.
Colgate Optic White Overnight Teeth Whitening Pen
Good for up to 35 uses, this pen brightens your smile during the darkest hours of the day. It uses a gentle three percent hydrogen peroxide formula to whiten teeth without the use of trays or strips, and promises to remove 15 years of stains in as little as seven nights of use.
SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Tray + Gel Pens
Use this LED tray for five minutes, twice a day, for a smile up to nine shades brighter within a week (Did you follow all that?) While it hinders any multitasking that requires talking, you’ll hopefully appreciate the excuse to zone out to your favorite power ballad or podcast. The pack of four pens should provide up to six months of use, though it’s important to note that there’s a professional-grade hydrogen peroxide formula in play here—sensitive smiles be warned.