Whiten Your Teeth at Home

Medically Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on November 01, 2015
3 min read

You flip through old photos and notice your grill doesn’t glisten like it used to. Luckily, you can get back your pearly whites without shelling out a lot of green. There are many safe, effective, and affordable over-the-counter (OTC) products that will brighten your smile. You can use them in the comfort of your home.

It depends on your goals and how much time and money you want to spend. Matthew Messina, DDS, an adviser for the American Dental Association in Cleveland, OH, says to opt for a well-known brand you can buy from a popular store or online. Some of your options include:

  • Whitening toothpastes and rinses: These are like cleansers that lift surface stains from your teeth. “They are safe and moderately effective, but they aren’t likely to give you the whitening results you’re looking for,” Messina says. He adds that toothpastes and rinses help keep your teeth white after your dentist bleaches them.
  • Whitening strips: You apply these to the surface of your teeth for a certain amount of time. Hydrogen peroxide lifts the stains. You can expect your teeth to lighten about five shades, Messina says.
  • Paint-on or brush-on formulas: You apply these before bed for 2 weeks.
  • At-home trays: If you get them from your dentist, they’ll make a mold of your teeth to create fitted trays. They’ll give you a strong bleaching gel to use at home. Over-the-counter systems work the same way. But they can cause irritation and may not work as well. Some OTC kits come with a bendable mouthpiece. These work better than one-size-fits-all trays. The bleaching gels that come in these kits aren’t as strong as the ones you get from a pro.

Most teeth whitening kits use a bleaching agent, like peroxide. Studies show the process is safe. But check with your dentist to see if your teeth are healthy enough. “You want to make sure there aren’t any underlying problems like decay or periodontal disease that could be causing your teeth to turn yellow,” Messina says.

That depends. “Generally speaking, yellow teeth tend to whiten better than teeth with gray tones,” Messina says. Teeth that are stained by medicines don’t tend to lighten well. And bleaching won’t work on caps, crowns, veneers, or fillings. You may need to have your teeth restored first.

These products can make your teeth more sensitive. It happens when the peroxide seeps through the enamel that covers your tooth and bothers the nerve. In most cases this feeling doesn’t last. If it does, or if your gums change color, see your dentist right away.

You should know if it’s working in about a week, Messina says. Take a photo of your smile before you use an OTC whitening kit the first time. Take a second a week later. Compare the two. If you see a change, it’s working. But make sure your goals are realistic.

If your teeth aren’t brighter after 2 weeks, call your dentist. “If you’re not getting good results after one box of whitening strips, you’re not going to see better results after 10 boxes,” Messina says. You may need a stronger treatment.


You’ve spent time and money to brighten your smile. Follow these tips to keep it that way:

  • Quit smoking.Tobacco is bad for your health -- and your pearly whites.
  • Cut back on coffee, tea, cola, and red wine. “Anything you would get yelled at for spilling on a white tablecloth will stain your teeth,” Messina says. Sip through a straw to bypass your front teeth
  • Keep your mouth healthy. Brush your teeth well at least twice a day. Use a whitening toothpaste. Don’t forget to floss.
  • See your dentist. Get your teeth cleaned twice a year to help them stay white and healthy.