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There are a few ways to brighten your teeth if you have braces. The best option for you will depend on the type of braces you have.

Dental braces can correct teeth overcrowding, a bad bite, and align your teeth, resulting in a healthier smile and increased self-confidence.

But what if you also want a brighter, whiter smile? Do you have to remove your braces before whitening your teeth?

Here’s what you need to know about whitening your teeth while wearing braces, and the different whitening options available to you.

Not only can food and drinks gradually stain your teeth, but braces can too.

Once you have stains on your teeth, brushing alone might not brighten your smile. In this case, you might need a whitening agent. The good news is you don’t have to remove your braces to get a whiter smile. However, it’s usually recommended to whiten teeth after braces.

Whitening teeth while wearing braces can sometimes result in uneven shades, as it’s difficult for the whitening agent to reach areas where brackets are covering the surface of teeth and in areas where teeth are shifting and overlapping.

Whitening options vary depending on what type of braces you have, as highlighted in the table below. More information about each option follows the table.

Teeth whitening optionsLingual braces and clear removable alignersTraditional metal braces
whitening stripsyesno
whitening traysyesno
whitening toothpaste and mouthwashyesyes
electric toothbrushyesyes

1. Whitening strips

Whitening strips are an at-home whitening method that’s safe, inexpensive, and effective. The strips contain either a bleaching agent or peroxide. They’re designed to lift stains off the surface of your teeth.

  • How they work: Typically, you apply a whitening strip over your teeth once or twice a day for up to 45 minutes.
  • Potential side effects: The bleaching agent in whitening strips can cause gum irritation and tooth sensitivity in some people.
  • Limitations: You can only use this whitening method with clear removable aligners or lingual braces (metals and brackets placed on the back of teeth). Unfortunately, whitening strips aren’t the best option if you have traditional metal braces, as the strips will only whiten the exposed tooth surfaces and not penetrate the tooth enamel under bonded brackets. You may have a two-tone or uneven color to your teeth once the braces are removed.
  • Cost: Between $30 and $40 for a 30-day supply.
  • Where to purchase: Most pharmacies or online.

2. Whitening trays

Another whitening option involves using a bleaching gel and a customized whitening tray molded to your teeth.

  • How it works: Place a small amount of the whitening gel into the tray, then insert the tray into your mouth for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour. Repeat treatments every day until you achieve the desired results, typically within 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Potential side effects: You may experience gum or tooth sensitivity. If you don’t experience irritation or sensitivity, you can wear the tray for a longer period, up to 2 hours per session.
  • Limitations: Since bleaching trays are placed over your teeth, this isn’t a good option for traditional metal braces. It only works with lingual braces and removable aligners. The trays may not fit as well with lingual braces.
  • Cost: The cost of this at-home teeth whitening method varies according to whether you purchase the kit in-store or from your dentist. In-store kits cost around $30, whereas your dentist might charge $100 or more for a kit.
  • Where to purchase: Your dentist, in pharmacies, and online.

3. Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash

Although you can’t use whitening strips or whitening trays with traditional metal braces, many everyday oral care products can result in a brighter smile.

Whitening toothpastes usually contain abrasive particles, like silica, to scrub away surface stains on your teeth. Some may also contain chemicals that help dissolve stains. And whitening mouthwash not only freshens breath, but it also protects against new stains.

  • How to use: Use a whitening toothpaste two to three times a day and a whitening mouthwash at least once a day for the best results.
  • Potential side effects: Some of these toothpastes don’t contain bleach, so they’re less likely to cause tooth sensitivity or gum irritation. However, some toothpastes may be very abrasive and wear away tooth enamel, leading to sensitivity.
  • Limitations: There are none. Toothpaste and mouthwash can be used with all kinds of braces.
  • Cost: The cost ranges from $10 to $15 for a three-pack of toothpaste and $20 to $30 for a three-pack of mouthwash.
  • Where to purchase: At grocery stores, pharmacies, and online (toothpaste, mouthwash).

4. Electric toothbrush

An electric toothbrush can also lift surface stains and whiten your teeth. Electric toothbrushes don’t include any type of chemical agent to change the color of your teeth. But they can remove surface stains better than a regular toothbrush. This can give the appearance of a whiter smile.

  • How to use: Use an electric toothbrush in the same manner as you would a traditional toothbrush. Some electric toothbrushes have specific orthodontic toothbrush heads for braces. Shop for them online.
  • Potential side effects: If you have sensitive gums or teeth, the rapid automatic bristle motion might be uncomfortable. Look for an electric toothbrush with different speed settings to reduce sensitivity.
  • Limitations: There are none. Electric toothbrushes can be used with all types of braces.
  • Cost: These toothbrushes can range from $10 (on the low end) to $70.
  • Where to purchase: Most pharmacies and online.

DIY teeth whitening methods, such as oil pulling, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, are usually safe to use when you have braces, but they could damage metal or ceramic brackets. If you have sensitive gums and teeth, you might want to limit using peroxide or a bleaching agent.

Keep in mind, too, that it can take longer to see results with at-home whitening treatments, and they’re not always as effective as in-office treatments.

Dentists use a stronger bleaching agent and a special ultraviolet light to change the color of your teeth. Though these dental treatments are more expensive than over-the-counter whitening products, the results are very effective.

You’ll usually have to wait until after you’ve removed traditional braces to schedule in-office whitening. You can, however, schedule an in-office treatment at any time if you have lingual braces or removable braces.

Discoloration can occur when food becomes stuck in between brackets and wires. Food debris causes a buildup of bacteria and plaque, which then leads to stains and spots on the teeth.

Some stains are preventable with proper oral hygiene. To prevent discoloration, make sure you brush and floss regularly, preferably after every meal.

Brush for at least 2 minutes, and use floss to remove any food stuck between your teeth and underneath the wires of your braces.

Since you’re at risk for tooth discoloration, limit drinks and foods that cause staining. You should also limit high-sugar and high-acidic foods that can damage your teeth. Also, avoid using tobacco products that can stain your teeth and harm your gums.

Keep regular dental cleaning appointments at least twice a year, and ask your orthodontist about fluoride treatments before and during braces. This can protect against discoloration.

Keeping your teeth white while wearing braces can be challenging. But with proper oral hygiene, it’s possible to reduce discoloration and staining.

If mild discoloration occurs, using a whitening toothpaste or mouth rinse can lift surface stains.

Depending on the type of braces you’re wearing, you might also be a candidate for whitening strips, whitening gels, or in-office dental treatments. For optimal whitening results, it’s usually best to whiten your teeth after your braces are removed if you have traditional braces.

Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about which options are best for you.