Do Teeth Whitening Strips Work?

Studies show that a great smile can boost confidence and attractiveness; it’s no wonder that teeth whitening has now become the most requested in-office dental procedure. Whitening strips, like Crest 3D Whitestrips, claim to offer an at-home experience with results that rival the professionals, but do they really work?

The draws of opting to use teeth whitening strips are obvious: they are inexpensive, simple to use and not as messy as other gel kits available. For those who have dental anxiety or phobia around visiting the dentist, an at-home treatment plan couldn’t sound more attractive.

However, that is also one of the biggest drawbacks – it is at home and without the supervision of a professional. Misuse can lead to tooth sensitivity, gum irritation or even tooth decay, so research and carefully following the manufacturer’s directions are essential to achieve a happy, healthy smile.

We always advise that you consult your dentist before starting any treatment. To help you have an informed conversation, here we address how they work, where you might run into problems, and of course, the big question:

“Do teeth whitening strips really work?”

Types of teeth whitening

There are two types of teeth whitening:

  1. Extrinstic
  2. Intrinsic

Extrinsic methods utilize a physical or chemical abrasive – a bit like sandpaper or paint stripper. The abrasive polishes away surface stains caused by highly pigmented foods and beverages. Whitening toothpastes are the most common form of extrinsic whitening.

Intrinsic methods deliver a bleaching product right to the core of the tooth, reaching the inner part (dentin) as well as any stains on the surface. Teeth whitening strips work intrinsically, lightening the whole tooth.

How do teeth whitening strips work?

Each whitening strip is made from polyethylene plastic and coated with a bleaching agent. This bleaching agent is typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide). In-office dental treatments also utilize peroxide, but at a much stronger concentration.

Please note that bleaching products containing chlorine dioxide are harmful to tooth enamel and should be avoided.

The whitening strip is applied along the tooth line and left on for designated amount of time. During this period, the peroxide seeps into the tooth. Oxygen from the peroxide then breaks up the color compounds inside the tooth, making the tooth appear white.

This process is then repeated over a course of days – typically between 4 and 21 days – to achieve the desired results.

Will whitening strips work on my teeth?

While whitening strips are mostly effective, results can vary from person to person. This is because different types of discoloration react differently to the hydrogen peroxide.

Take a tour of our flowchart to find out whether whitening strips are right for you:

teeth whitening flow chart

Do teeth whitening strips work on yellow teeth?

Yellow teeth can be caused by a range of different factors. It is well known that drinking beverages such as wine, as well as smoking, can have detrimental effects on teeth, but several other factors can contribute to discoloration.

  • Smoking: Smoking causes stains because of the nicotine and tar in the tobacco. Staining occurs very easily as both substances are highly pigmented. These stubborn stains are some of the hardest to remove, especially if smoking habits have been sustained over a prolonged period of time.
  • Diet: Foods and drinks with strong colors cause staining to the teeth. These effects are worsened if the food is acidic, making things like red wine, dark colored soda, and tomato sauces the biggest culprits.
  • Poor oral hygiene: When it comes to yellow teeth, poor oral hygiene is a significant contributing factor. Without regular brushing and flossing, stains are never removed and are able to build up over time.
  • Age: Like graying hair, yellow teeth are a natural part of the aging process. This is caused by two factors. Firstly, when the inner part of the tooth – dentin – repairs and replaces itself, it appears darker in color. Secondly, with time, enamel thins and becomes more transparent. The combination of a darker interior and transparent exterior means that the overall appearance of the tooth becomes more yellow.
  • Fluoride: Fluoride is great for helping to prevent tooth decay but excessive fluoride exposure, especially in young children, can cause the teeth to yellow prematurely.
  • Illness and treatments: Some prescription medications, such as those for asthma and high blood pressure, can cause the teeth to yellow. More aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy also have an effect, particularly when treating cancers in the head and neck area.

If you have yellow teeth, then you are a perfect candidate for whitening strips. The peroxide is able to treat the yellowing from the inside out and you can expect great results.

However, stains caused by smoking are the most stubborn and often require as much as 3 months of treatment before desired results are achieved.

Do teeth whitening strips work on dental restorations?

Teeth whitening strips are effective because the bleaching agent seeps into the core of the tooth. This is because the enamel on the tooth surface is porous – almost like a sponge. Dental restorations such as crowns, veneers and fillings are not porous so the bleach has no effect on their appearance.

While some people with minimal dental work do have some success with whitening strips, be aware that it may result in a color mismatch. If you have dental work, you should opt for in-office treatment to get the best results. Your dentist will be able to whiten much more accurately and match your tooth color to any existing restorations.

Do teeth whitening strips work on gray teeth?

Gray teeth can occur for a number of reasons including trauma to the tooth, silver fillings and exposure to antibiotics such as tetracycline. Often the gray hue is a sign that the tooth has died.

As a result, gray teeth typically do not bleach well. It is advised to consult your dentist for alternative options such as veneers or a prolonged professional whitening treatment.

Encountering problems

If whitening strips are used incorrectly, you may encounter some problems such as: 

  • Gum irritation
  • Enamel damage leading to tooth decay
  • Uneven whitening

Even with correct use, it is common to experience some tooth sensitivity during the treatment period. This is usually temporary and will go away once the treatment is completed. You can use a fluoride toothpaste for sensitive teeth to help avoid this.

Teeth whitening strips are completely effective and safe when used as directed by the manufacturer.

The bottom line: do they work?

It is important to remember that not everyone is a perfect candidate to use teeth whitening strips. Do your research and consult your dentist before starting your treatment.

When applied with care and consideration, many users have achieved results similar to professional whitening treatments.

Teeth whitening strips really do work.

Want to know more? Check out The Toothsayer reviews of the most popular teeth whitening strips; including those from Crest, Rembrandt and Sheer White.

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