Katie OrmsbyTeeth Whitening Expert

Katie enjoys helping readers make sense of Teeth Whitening options. She's previously written business and shopping features for The Seattle Times and Seattle Met magazine. She has a degree in journalism and political science from the University of Washington.


How Teeth Whitening Works

As people age, the foods that they eat and beverages that they drink can begin to have an effect on the coloration of their teeth. More specifically, dietary choices, as well as things like smoking, can result in your once-bright pearly whites turning into less flattering colors, such as yellow, grey, or even black.

Making matters worse is the fact that many of the most common culprits behind this discoloration represent life’s greatest joys, including coffee, tea, soda, and wine. Mother nature can be a cruel, cruel woman.

Fortunately, science is a wonderful thing and has resulted in many modern-day whitening treatments for your teeth. You don’t even have to see a dentist in many cases, as these treatments have expanded to include at-home treatments that can be purchased online or at a local drug store.

Making things even better is that most of these at-home treatments only cost a fraction of what you would pay at a dentist’s office for the same quality of treatment. Before hopping online and grabbing one of these treatments, however, it’s important to first understand how most at-home teeth whitening products work.

The Process Behind At-Home Teeth Whitening

All teeth whitening is the result of one of two types of ‘teeth bleach’, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. When applied onto teeth with stains, these ingredients work to break down stains into less concentrated areas, which, in turn, makes discoloration less visible and your teeth appear whiter.

You can think of this process as producing the same kind of effect as when bleach is applied to a stain on a white t-shirt. After enough time, the concentration of the stain becomes less and less, making the stained area of the shirt appear whiter and whiter.

The Different Ways to Whiten Your Teeth

While the actual process behind teeth whitening is relatively straightforward, the different ways in which you can apply hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide onto your teeth are far more diverse.

Whitening Pen

The most common way to apply teeth bleach is with an applicator similar to what you find inside of a nail polish container. After brushing your teeth, you can use this applicator to coat your upper and lower teeth with teeth whitener, which you’re then typically required to leave on for around 10 minutes before rinsing your mouth out.

Many companies also offer stronger, on-the-go versions of this type of teeth bleach which you can carry with you and apply whenever you need a quick touch up. While different people will experience different levels of whitening success, on-the-go applicators, sometimes referred to as ‘pens’, can produce noticeable whitening after just one use.

Whitening Strips

For a more concentrated method, you can opt for whitening strips instead. These strips are typically applied directly onto your upper and lower teeth and left on for up to 30 minutes, depending on the specific brand and make of the strips.

Because strips are often more concentrated than traditional whitening gel, you’re often asked to take periodic breaks from using them after a certain number of consecutive days to avoid over whitening or potentially harming your teeth. Fortunately, most companies will provide specific instructions relating to these rest periods with your purchase.

Whitening Trays

Often the most concentrated at-home whitening option is the whitening tray, which typically requires you to fill a tray molded to the shape of your teeth with whitening gel before popping it into your mouth for extended periods of time (the actual amount of time will usually be specified in provided instructions).

In some cases, these trays may even come with a blue LED light. Aside from making it look like you’re emitting a cool blast of blue light from your mouth, these lights, when combined with hydrogen peroxide, are proven to lighten the color of teeth much better compared to if you were to just use peroxide by itself.

Some companies even pair these LED-assisted mouthpieces with Bluetooth, allowing you to control your mouthpiece from your phone, track your whitening process, and more.

In cases like these, you’ll often have to pay a premium for wireless mouthpieces. Other than not having a wire hanging out of your mouth, having a wireless whitening mouthpiece allows you to go about your business as you whiten your teeth. This is actually very convenient, as mouthpiece whitening treatments can require daily commitments of 30 minutes, in some cases.

All in all, at-home teeth whitening can take many forms. From small applicators for spot touch ups to Bluetooth-enabled devices to whiten your whole smile, there’s something for just about anyone wanting to brighten up their pearly whites.