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Good To Know

Do Whitening Products Really Work?

Jun 19, 2020


Painful strips. Ultraviolet radiation. Twice-the-normal-price whitening toothpaste?

Tired of taking extreme measures to get whiter teeth?

Methods that can not only harm your wallet, but potentially even your health?

Well, here’s the thing: you might not need to do all of that….because it might not work to begin with.

Americans spend $1.4 billion annually on non-prescription whitening products for their teeth and, while whitening products can temporarily remove superficial stains, the truth is that they actually might not be as effective at removing the underlying stains that are the primary culprits of yellow teeth.

Additionally, if you don’t have healthy teeth to begin with and aren’t following the instructions to-an-absolute-T, you are going to get a whole lot of nothing in the results department.

Today, we’ll give you the run-down of the types of tooth stains, why certain kinds of whitening methods are effective or ineffective, and what you can do to avoid tooth stains in the first place.

First let’s talk about the basic types of dental stains…



Extrinsic (aka the ones whitening products work on): These are your run-of-the-mill stains that occur on the surface of the tooth caused by factors such as red wine, coffee, tobacco…basically anything that can stain your shirt will most likely also stain your teeth. These stains can potentially be removed via over-the-counter whitening products with proper application.

Extrinsic stains can also be caused by acidic foods which eat away the enamel and expose the yellow dentin layer underneath OR improper dental care and subsequent plaque and bacteria build-up. Stains as a result of dietary enamel erosion and bad oral hygiene are best treated by….you guessed it…better oral hygiene and a little more attention given to what you eat.

Intrinsic (aka the ones whitening products don’t always work on): Intrinsic stains can be caused by antibiotics such as tetracycline and doxycycline, injuries to the tooth that impact enamel, cavities, too much fluoride, aging, and genetics.

 These stains occur within the tooth and often cannot be simply removed by whitening products. However, there’s hope. As we’ll talk about later, you may not be able to make your teeth whiter if they are affected by these factors, but you can take measures to prevent further yellowing.

Now, let’s talk about some of the common methods used to whiten teeth…



At-the-drugstore remedies.

These are the whitening strips, gels, toothpastes, and mouthwashes that you grab-and-go at the drug store. If there’s a ‘whitening’ product next to a product that doesn’t have the ‘whitening’ label, most people will fork over the extra cash for the chance of whiter teeth. Since there are many of these, let’s break them down into types of whitening products.:

Whitening Toothpastes: It should be noted that toothpaste, by its very nature of cleaning your teeth, helps remove extrinsic stains and the plaque and bacteria that build up. What makes whitening toothpastes different?

They can contain polishing or chemical agents that further help remove stains. All-in-all though, most whitening toothpastes can really only lighten your teeth by about 1 shade.


Whitening Strips, Gels, and LED Lights: Whitening gels typically are topically applied directly to the teeth whereas the strips are basically strips containing a layer of gel.

Both contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide typically, and are actually more effective at whitening your teeth than toothpastes. LED lights can also be used in conjunction with the whitening gels.

However, buyer-beware, while UV light has been shown to accelerate the speed of peroxide activation, most products that you find  online or in the store contain LED lights, which do a big fat zilch when it comes to actually whitening your teeth. Another caution to consider when it comes to whitening gels and strips?

Since they typically use a hefty amount of hydrogen peroxide, many people report sensitive and painful teeth and gums for hours, even days, after application.

As we explored in a separate article, while hydrogen peroxide is undoubtedly successful at whitening teeth, it may also damage the dentin layer of the teeth, which results in more brittle teeth and, subsequently, enamel that is more susceptible to erosion and decay.

Additionally, some strips and gels use chlorine dioxide, which has been shown to erode tooth enamel over the long run.

Whitening Mouthwashes. Whitening mouthwashes also work via hydrogen peroxide but, largely, are considered to be less effective because they come into contact with your teeth for a shorter period of time and most people don’t use them as frequently or for as long as recommended.

One final word about over-the-counter remedies: If you decide to purchase any of these products, make sure they have the American Dental Association seal of acceptance. They are more likely to cause less harmful agents.


At-the-dentist remedies.

As the title implies, these are the treatments you can only get at or through a visit to your dentist. They are, by and large, more effective and safer (though much more expensive) than using drugstore treatments.


Applied Whitening Solution.

Dentists may use a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide whitening solution they let sit on the teeth for about 45 minutes. This solution is much stronger than whatever you can buy at a store, so much so that they have to safeguard your gums during application. This is one of the quickest and most effective ways to a whiter smile, but as mentioned previously, it’s important to be aware of the risks of hydrogen peroxide prior to application.

UV Light.

Remember when we said that UV light was effective at activating peroxide gel to whiten teeth but LED was not? Well, dentists typically use UV light, not LED, so if you’re going to go that route, do it at the dentist. Beware though, as with any strong exposure to UV light, there is always risk involved.

Prescription Whitening Products.

If you get a professional whitening product prescribed by a dentist, they often contain carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide which helps not only extrinsic stains but also may help some intrinsic stains.

This might come in the form of whitening trays, which are filled with a whitening gel, and worn like a mouth guard for a few hours each day for several weeks.

This typically takes a long time but it can be quite effective and is one of the few ‘whitening’ solutions that can treat intrinsic stains.

At-home remedies.

Here’s the quick what-you-need-to-know about at-home au-natural whitening. There are tons of methods that have been touted over the years from charcoal to apple cider vinegar.

Some are definitely more effective than others and most of them work on treating those extrinsic stains. If you want the complete list, we did a blog a while back on the most effective way to whiten your teeth without all the ‘official’ whitening products.

You can read all about it here. The primary takeaway? The most effective way to whiten naturally is through the right diet and taking proper care of your teeth…and maybe a little swish of coconut oil once in a while.

One last note before we close out this section on remedies: Whitening remedies, both at-home and through your dentist, are not recommended for certain groups of people including those who are:


  • Under age 16
  • Pregnant
  • Have sensitive teeth
  • Have a peroxide allergy
  • Have pre-existing cavities, worn enamel, gum disease, exposed roots, fillings, crowns (or basically need any dental work)



Now that we’ve run you through the remedies, let’s quickly talk about how to avoid staining teeth in the first place.

Most dentists agree that yellowing is natural over time, but there are certainly measures you can take to prevent stains. Here are the most effective ways you can deter yellowing:

  • Don’t smoke. Obviously.
  • Don’t do drugs. This needs no further explanation. If you need any help remembering, just ask any 9 year old.
  • Avoid tooth-staining culprits like red wine, chocolate, red sauces, berries and, regrettably, coffee. If you can’t do that, then make sure you rinse your mouth or brush immediately after consumption.
  • Same goes for acidic foods. The less acid, the less enamel erosion.
  • Grinding your teeth also wears down enamel so that yellow dentin layer shows through. As much as possible, try to treat grinding before it becomes an issue. Need help? We’ve got some good advice here.
  • Avoid using an over-abundance of fluoride in your dental products. Want a great fluoride-free toothpaste? Check out RADIUS USDA organic gel toothpaste in great flavors like Clove Cardamom and Dragon Fruit.
  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH! Are we a broken record over here or what? It’s true though, the #1 way to keep your smile bright? Take good care of your teeth every single day.

Now go get your brush on!