We get many patients asking us about the various methods of tooth whitening that are available on the market when they are searching for a way to get a brighter smile. There are many different products available, both over the counter and in-office. Some of these products work, others do not, and all are available at a variety of price points. So which is the best and most cost-effective method? Well, I will give you my opinion, first I will mention that whitening effect is directly related to two things, the amount and strength of the whitening agent used, and the contact time with your teeth.
Whitening toothpastes advertise brighter smiles, but do not deliver on their claims. They can scrub off external stains by using harsher abrasives than regular toothpastes but have no active whitening ingredient. Therefore I consider them a scam and a waste of time. Even if they did have an active whitening ingredient a contact time of 2 minutes during brushing twice a day is not long enough to whiten your teeth.
Whitening mouthrinses may contain an active ingredient that could whiten your teeth, however once again, they are a scam because the contact time with your tooth is not long enough to have any impact on sub-surface stains.
Whitestrips, or similar products do contain an active whitening ingredient, and are designed to be worn for a long enough period of time to whiten your teeth. I suggest Whitestrips as a great way to get into whitening in order to see if it is something that you may want to continue with, as it has a low price point and so there is no large outlay of money if you decide that you don't like how whitening makes your teeth feel. The downside of Whitestrips, is that although they do whiten, they don't hold the whitening agent against the teeth very well, and so it quickly gets watered down with saliva getting under the strip.
Professionally made take-home trays, in my opinion, are the best balance of budget and effectiveness. Similar to white strips you use them at home, they use an active whitening ingredient, and they do a good job. They cost more than white strips since the office makes custom fitted trays that will hold the gel on to your teeth, however this also allows the gel to have a longer time before it eventually gets watered down by saliva and loses effectiveness. As the trays only need to be made once, if you plan on whitening long term, you can buy refill whitening gel syringes, which are far more economical than the initial cost of the entire kit with whitening trays and gel.
In office whitening is the most expensive method, and also the fastest method to whiten your teeth. I do not suggest in office whitening for a few reasons. The first is rebound effect. When you have your teeth whitened in-office, you must have your mouth open for about an hour while the gel works. This causes your teeth to become dehydrated. When teeth are dehydrated they become very white, however once they rehydrate again in a few hours after the procedure is complete, much of that is lost. For this reason, you often will be given trays after an in-office whitening procedure so that you can try to fight the effects of post-whitening rebound at home. To me this makes little sense as if you are going to be wearing the trays at home anyway, then why not just save some money and skip the in-office portion. The second reason that I do not suggest in-office whitening is due to sensitivity. Any whitening product that actually works can make your teeth sensitive temporarily after the whitening is complete. The stronger the product the more sensitive your teeth will become. In-office whitening gels are the strongest whitening gels available and therefore can cause extreme sensitivity following the procedure. They are so strong that if care is not taken they can even bleach your gums temporarily.
Taking into consideration all of the pros and cons, my belief is that if you are unsure about tooth whitening, you may want to begin with an over the counter product like Whitestrips to try it out. If you decide that you would like to go further, a take-home, professionally made, custom fit tooth whitening system is the best way to get the effect that you desire.