Let’s face it, Brits haven’t always had a good rep when it comes to a Hollywood smile. Those daily cups of tea (or coffee or red wine), can take their toll, staining your teeth, and sometimes even the most diligent brushing routine doesn’t cut it.
Professional whitening might seem like the best option, but with treatments starting in the hundreds, it’s also expensive. Enter the best teeth whitening kits that promise to do an impressive job of restoring your pearly whites for a fraction of the price.
What is the most effective tooth whitening product?
The Good Housekeeping Institute put the most popular home teeth whitening kits to the test, to see if they were as quick and effective as they claimed. From pens to strips and mouthguards, we’ve tested all formats to find the best.
We’d always recommend having a consultation with your dentist before starting any new treatment, however once you get the go ahead, these are the treatments that impressed us the most:
How do teeth whitening kits work?
Teeth whitening products aim to remove surface stains on the tooth and penetrate the enamel, to break down the discoloured molecules within. This leaves teeth looking whiter overall.
The solutions often contain active bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which remove the deeper stains from your teeth.
Dr Hanna Kinsella, cosmetic dentist and founder of Icy Bear Dental, explains: “Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid with strong oxidising properties, meaning it steals the electrons that hold the staining molecules together, causing them to fall apart. It will change the colour of your teeth, rather than simply removing surface stains. Carbamide peroxide is another similar ingredient.”
Other ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, sodium perborate, activated charcoal or even coconut oil offer a more natural alternative, although these are usually considered less effective, as they mainly only remove surface stains.
In the UK, teeth whitening kits can be bought over the counter but only if they contain less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. This means they aren’t as strong as professional whitening treatments, as a qualified dentist can legally use up to 6% hydrogen peroxide.
“Speak to your dentist, as it’s often helpful to use DIY treatments alongside any ongoing professional plan,” says Dr Kinsella. “In-clinic whitening will always give you the best results because we can legally use products with higher percentages of bleach. The at-home alternatives can still be effective, but they’re usually much weaker and best used as a top-up.”
Are teeth whitening kits safe?
Using teeth whitening kits at home is safe, provided the ingredients don’t exceed the maximum percentage allowed.
Note that some salons may offer teeth whitening but this is illegal if not performed by a qualified dental professional. If you have any doubts, the NHS recommends visiting a dentist to talk about your options.
“Home teeth whitening kits have come a long way in the last few years,” says Dr Kinsella. “That said, it’s still important to exercise caution and make sure you purchase a reputable kit from a trusted seller, as some can do more harm to teeth than good by damaging their enamel.
“Your gums may also be sensitive to the chemicals, particularly if you already have sensitive teeth.
“I would always recommend choosing a tooth whitening product that contains fluoride, as this is essential for fighting decay and protecting against cavities.”
Can anyone use teeth whitening kits?
Whitening kits do not work on false teeth such as veneers and crowns. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or under 18 years old shouldn’t use them either.
If you have sensitive teeth or gum concerns, speak to your dentist first. You may need to address them before whitening, or alternatively have the procedure performed by a professional.
How do I use a teeth whitening kit?
The kits often contain a whitening gel formula, plastic tray (to insert into the mouth) and an LED light, which helps to speed up the whitening process.
Whitening strips or pens, on the other hand, already contain the formula so can be applied directly to the teeth. Some strips dissolve on the teeth, but most can be removed and disposed of after use.
Each product will come with their own instructions but in general you should see results at least two weeks after routine use, with top-ups usually required every six months.
Dr Kinsella’s buzz word is ‘consistency’. “To minimise the risk of a shoddy DIY job, always follow the treatment programme for the number of days advised on the packet.”
How we test
We asked 318 testers to try a range of teeth whitening products at home. We then asked a proportion of them to visit our lab where we took pictures of their teeth before and after treatment using our VISIA Complexion analyser. Using a whiteness scale, we were then able to determine any difference in shade before and after treatment.
We also asked testers to assess the whitening products at home. They reviewed how easy each one was to use, how long the treatment took, whether there were any sensitivity issues, and their overall effectiveness.