What’s the best way to whiten your teeth?

Healthy white teeth are practically a universal sign of looking younger and attractive, both for men and for women, so it should come as no surprise that there is a wide selection of products and treatments claiming to instantly whiten your teeth.

From whitening toothpastes and over-the-counter strips to dental office procedures, all tooth-whitening measures employ hydrogen peroxide to clean away stains. The only differences are the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide employed and how they’re held against your teeth.

So if your teeth are seriously stained, a whitening toothpaste alone won’t get the job done—no matter how hard you brush. (In fact, brushing forcefully can damage your gums, remove the enamel off your teeth and is never advisable)

Over-the-counter gels or strips are the next level up on the hydrogen-peroxide/price spectrum. They’re usually in the 6% to 10% range.   At these concentrations, the hydrogen peroxide can penetrate microscopic holes and fissures in your enamel to bubble away stains.

While over-the-counter options can be very effective, the key is to apply them evenly and keep them on as long as directed. If the strips or gel are applied incorrectly, your teeth could look unevenly white. Gum irritation is also possible.

But remember this important caveat: whitening agents do not work on caps, crowns or fillings. If you’ve had some dental work done, you should speak with your dentist before you whiten your teeth to be sure the results will look uniform.

Another step up in both cost and potency is dentist supplied “tray-and-gel systems,” which contain hydrogen peroxide in the 10% to 15% range.  After custom fitting your mouth with a mold, your dentist supplies a take home tray and whitening gel for you to use at home. The custom tray ensures the gel is evenly applied, and it can produce some pretty impressive results. But, it has to be used for a number of days/ weeks.

The final and quickest option is settling into your dentist’s chair for a series of 10- to 15-minute whitening treatments. With hydrogen peroxide concentrations as high as 35%, these treatments can make your smile a dozen shades brighter in a single visit.