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If you visit your local pharmacy, you’ll likely see many products claiming to whiten your teeth. Home teeth whitening products first became available in the 1980s, and now they seem to be everywhere.

But do teeth whitening strips and other whitening products actually work?

The short answer is yes. Teeth whitening strips can whiten your teeth by a shade or two and can act in as little as a few days.

But home products aren’t usually as effective as in-office dental whitening techniques. They also come with some risks such as increased tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.

Keep reading to learn about how teeth whitening strips work and which types of products are most effective.

Teeth whitening strips have the potential to whiten your teeth by bleaching stains with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Carbamide peroxide is a molecule that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide when it comes into contact with water.

Peroxides in whitening strips penetrate the outer layer of your tooth called the enamel and enter the deeper dentin layer, where they bleach chromogens. Chromogens are pigmented molecules found inside and outside your tooth that cause staining.

Staining can be divided into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic staining.

Extrinsic staining

Extrinsic staining affects the outside of your tooth and is largely caused by environmental factors such as:

  • smoking
  • certain foods and drinks such as coffee, wine, dark berries
  • antibiotics
  • exposure to metals such as iron or copper

Intrinsic staining

Intrinsic staining affects the inside of your tooth. It’s caused by factors such as:

Whitening strips target both extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Whitening strips can target both types of stains. Stains caused by aging, genetics, smoking, or coffee are generally the fastest to respond to bleaching. Yellowish aging stains also respond well.

Whitening strips may be best used when you’re trying to make a small touch-up to your tooth color.

For more significant changes, you may want to consider professional whitening from a dentist. A dentist can use stronger bleaches and give you a custom treatment best suited to your needs.

Home whitening strips generally contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to bleach stains in your teeth. However, some strips, especially those used at some beauty salons or cruise ships, may contain chlorine dioxide.

Chlorine dioxide is touted to be a safer and more effective alternative, but its safety is debated. Chlorine dioxide may strip your tooth enamel. It may also make your teeth more prone to restaining and becoming extremely sensitive.

Here are some of the whitening strips we recommend that use hydrogen peroxide as their active ingredient. (You can purchase online by clicking the links.)

There are many types of whitening strips available on the market and instructions vary between brands.

Typically, you use whitening strips twice per day for 2 weeks. You usually leave them on for about 30 minutes at a time.

Tooth lightening can be seen in as little as several days and can lighten your teeth by a shade or two. Some products may only require you to apply them once per day but can deliver the same results.

Teeth whitening strips are known to cause increased tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. Usually, these symptoms are mild.

Tooth sensitivity usually starts at the time of treatment and lasts for several days. Gum irritation may start within a day of treatment and also typically lasts for several days.

Your risk of developing these side effects increases with the concentration of peroxide in the whitener and the amount of time you leave them on.

Using high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can potentially damage the structure of your teeth and make your teeth more susceptible to demineralization. Demineralization is the loss of calcium and other minerals from your teeth.

Studies have reported structural damage of the enamel from the application of 35 percent carbamine peroxide.

Also, keep in mind that teeth whitening won’t change the color of existing fillings, crowns, bridges, or implants. Only natural teeth can be whitened.

Following good oral hygiene habits and minimizing your consumption of certain foods can help you avoid staining and maximize your tooth health.

Here are some specific ways to keep your teeth white.

Teeth whitening strips have the potential to lighten your teeth by a shade or two. You may be able to see results as soon as several days after treatment.

Home teeth whitening products are best used to touch up mild discoloration of your teeth. If you’re dealing with significant staining, you may want to visit your dentist for an in-office cleaning.

Before using any teeth whitening product, talk with your dentist and check to see if the product has the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.