Let’s be serious. Everybody wants a Hollywood smile that can light up a room. People with blinding white teeth catch our eye and it gives them an almost celebrity-like glow. Especially if the person themselves is already attractive. Whitening your teeth can help give you that extra edge needed to elevate your appearance to that larger than life look.

Why? It’s simple:  A white smile impresses and everyone can agree that it’s better than the coffee-stained yellow color of the average person’s teeth. Average is passable but it’s far from ideal. We want to be better.

The biggest obstacle to attaining that Steve Harvey smile will be your teeth’s natural tendency towards a color. Blame your genetics (and eating habits). Enamel can range in color anywhere from a light yellow to an almost grayish white.

The bigger problem is that enamel is also translucent which means it reveals the layer underneath called dentin which is much yellower in appearance.

We can bleach dentin to a whiter color but lots of people have trouble getting it as white as they’d like. Don’t lose hope. The good news is that there’s more than one way to go about whitening your teeth. Some methods are more powerful than others so if you aren’t satisfied with the results of one, move on to the next. Anyone can see improvement if they stick with it and maintain proper oral hygiene.

1) Teeth Whitening Kits

At-home teeth whitening kits are one of the most popular methods of whitening. Compared to those you find at a dentist’s office, they’re actually pretty similar in strength although there are a few differences. Namely the price and the types of mouthpieces/trays used (which can make a big difference). Whitening your teeth at the dentist is usually more expensive and the mouthpiece/trays used are also usually quite better.

That being said, the most difficult part will not be using the kits, since most of them are straightforward and come with instructions, but actually choosing one to use. Most simply don’t work as well as advertised.

Why don’t most of them work? The answer is the trays. You see, there are two types of whitening solutions they can use to bleach your teeth, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Both are essentially the same and will get you the same results. Assuming the product actually contains one of those two solutions the type of tray used is the next most important factor.  Most kits come with trays that need to be heated with warm water which you then bite down on so they mold and fit to your teeth.

Some of these kits have very questionable trays which either don’t mold well enough, or don’t keep the peroxide on your teeth. When you use these trays, you might find the peroxide leaking out into your tongue and mouth rather than sticking to your teeth and bleaching them. Some of them are uncomfortable to wear and you may start producing so much saliva that you’ll want to spit it all out. These are frustrating issues that are more common than they should be.

Another thing to know, although this applies to all whitening products is that your teeth and gums may sting while you’re bleaching them. While this isn’t exactly dangerous, understand that it can be very painful. Everyone is different though and some may experience no pain while bleaching.

Again, this isn’t a problem unique to whitening kits, but for all teeth whiteners that use hydrogen or carbamide peroxide. You can whiten your teeth everyday or every other day if you don’t feel too much pain from the peroxide. If you find your teeth and/or gums hurt then use the kits less often, about once or twice a week.

So what’s the verdict with teeth whitening kits? If you actually use a quality kit, they can work and they can be very effective.

We’re going to recommend two kits that either one of us here have used ourselves or people we know have had success with.

This whitening kit uses a 36% carbamide peroxide gel and comes with enough gel to last you for a couple months depending how often you use it. What’s we really like about it is after you mold the trays with your teeth to create the impression you actually send it back to the company (they have prepaid shipping except international orders) which they then use to create a refined custom bleaching tray. It may take a while to get them back (usually a week or two) and actually start using the kit itself but the company responds to emails and the customer service is relatively decent.

Another kit we like is this one which uses a slightly stronger 44% carbamide peroxide solution. Unfortunately the trays they use are one of those “heat up and bite down” types which we consider inferior to the custom made trays of the first kit but otherwise the whitening kit works fine. It also comes with an LED light which might be able to speed the whitening process (more on that below).

While using one these kits, all you need to do is squeeze some gel out of the syringe they come with and into the trays which you then place in your mouth and bite down on gently to hold them in place. The gels will foam and cover your teeth to bleach the enamel and dentin to a whiter color.

It only takes about 30 minutes for a single session although you may need to do a couple sessions before you see results. Don’t do more than one session a day and don’t brush or use mouthwash an hour before or after you use the kits.

Quick Note on UV Light

Many teeth whitening kits come with UV light devices that claim they can speed up the whitening process. The idea behind it is that the UV light basically works by breaking down the peroxide so it bleaches your teeth quicker. There have been studies which challenge these claims.

UV treatments can be just as bad for your teeth and gums as they are for your skin. Some people even experience pain while using them because it burns their gums. Until we find research that says otherwise, we can’t recommend using these devices even though we do mostly hear good things about them (a case of the placebo effect maybe?)

2) White Strips

White strips are much simpler to use than whitening kits. Instead of squeezing gel into a tray, you stick two adhesive strips to your teeth, one to the bottom row and another to the top. After about 30 minutes you take them off and throw them out. Couldn’t be any more straightforward.

Another advantage of using strips is that unlike trays, they don’t let any of the peroxide escape onto your tongue assuming you wrapped them around your teeth correctly.

The most popular brand here are the Crest Whitening Strips and for good reason – they work. Remember that depending on how sensitive your teeth and gums are, you may experience a stinging sensation. This is unavoidable unless you use less powerful strips. We like the Professional Effects line of strips for maximum whitening but if you have sensitive teeth try the Glamorous Whites instead which are slightly weaker in strength and won’t irritate as much.

Use these for sensitive teeth and gums otherwise the Professional Effects line is your best bet.

3) Activated Charcoal

We know what you’re thinking.  “Are you crazy!?” Here us out: This special form of charcoal which is more commonly used to treat food poisoning is actually a great natural teeth whitener. The same qualities which make it useful for removing toxins out of your body make it effective for removing stains and plaque off your teeth. In case you were wondering, yes it’s completely safe to use — this is because it doesn’t actually get digested by your body.

Here’s how to use activated charcoal:  

You’ll want to get the loose powdered form of the charcoal for your teeth. You can also crush up a couple tablets together if you have those instead. Once you have the powder, you’ll want to mix it with a little bit of water to form a paste and then dip your toothbrush and brush your teeth just as you normally would with regular toothpaste.

Your mouth and teeth will become black and nasty looking but after you rinse and spit it out you’ll find your teeth squeaky clean. This is definitely one of the more unconventional methods but it works and if you’re feeling adventurous you should try it out.

Just crush up one of these and use as a toothpaste. Also a good way to scare anyone living with you in the morning.

4) Baking Soda

Using baking soda to brush your teeth is another tried and tested method of whitening. The advantage of using baking soda is that you probably already have some laying around your home.

Anyways, you can either sprinkle a little baking soda over a wet toothbrush, or you can add it on top of your toothpaste. Some people like making a paste by mixing water, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide together. Remember that hydrogen peroxide is the main whitening ingredient used in kits and strips.

We must warn you though, this is not a long-term solution for whiter teeth. Using baking soda can damage your enamel and cause irreversible damage especially if you use it too often. Not to mention that baking soda won’t do much to prevent cavities or prevent bacteria from making itself at home in your mouth. This is not a toothpaste replacement.

We can only recommend using baking soda as a temporary quick-fix solution when you need whiter teeth now.

That being said, some toothpastes do contain dental grade baking soda which is tested and much safer to use than everyday household baking soda. Our toothpaste recommendation for teeth whitening is the Arm and Hammer Extreme Whitening Paste which uses dental grade baking soda and does a great job at living up to its name.

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Using a combination of the whitening methods mentioned above will probably get you better results than just sticking to one. Using them in combination with a whitening toothpaste and mouthwash would be even better.

You could use a whitening kit, white strips, and activated charcoal as long as you make sure you’re spacing out the time between each method. If you use the kit in the morning, put on the strips at night. Or use one today and another tomorrow. Just don’t overdo it to protect your enamel.

So that concludes our teeth whitening guide, and our oral hygiene guide. If you have any questions or your own personal methods of whitening teeth, let us know in the comments below.

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