- At-home teeth whitening kits help lift surface stains, but many are expensive and hurt your teeth.
- We asked six professional dentists to recommend their go-to at-home teeth-whitening products.
- Our top pick, Crest 3D White Professional Effects, is effective, simple, and fairly affordable.
Wanting whiter teeth in a world of first impressions and social media needs no explanation. But which at-home teeth whitening kits won’t make your pearlies sensitive after one round – that’s much harder.
In actuality, the most effective way to whiten your teeth is at the dentist’s office; however, that’s expensive and inaccessible for many people. Whitening toothpastes can help with daily maintenance, but they won’t create that ‘wow’ factor. At-home teeth whitening kits can save you money, time, and allow you to regularly re-whiten as needed (aka, as your coffee and red wine habit sees fit). The problem: A lot of whitening kits are too strong, causing your gums to become sensitive to pressure and your teeth sensitive to cold after just one use.
To find the most effective at-home teeth whitening products, including options for sensitive teeth, we asked a handful of dentists what the best teeth whiteners are for a brighter smile ASAP. We took into consideration options for sensitive teeth and gums, folks on a budget, and other buying factors. We tested many of their suggestions, as well as leading brands on the market, and combed through research and ratings. Each of the teeth whitening kits below are effective, easy to use, and less likely to irritate your teeth or gums.
Here are the best teeth whitening kits you can buy:
- Best teeth whitening strips overall: Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips
- Best teeth whitening trays: Opalescence Go 15% kit
- Best teeth whitening kit for sensitive teeth and gums: Zimba white strips
- Best LED teeth whitening kit: SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Kit
- Best natural teeth whitening kit: Miswak Club Natural Teeth Whitening Kit
- Best for professional-level results: Linhart Teeth Whitening Collection
Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips are effective, won’t slide around during treatment, easy to find at any drugstore, and have a less-concentrated formula for minimal sensitivity.
Pros: Produces results in four or five uses, recommended by dentists, low peroxide levels
Cons: May irritate the gums
Pack count: 20 treatments
Easy to put on and with an effective formula, Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips offers the most bang for your buck and is a favorite of Neil Hadaegh DDS, a professional dentist in Beverly Hills.
The gel is contained in strips that you press to mold around your teeth — so much so that Crest says you can even drink water and talk while wearing the strips thanks to their “Advanced Seal Technology.”
This formula typically has a lower concentration (10%) of Hydrogen Peroxide so it’s better for people who have sensitive teeth and can’t tolerate higher levels.
The Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips kit comes with 40 strips for 20 treatments (each treatment consists of a strip on the upper teeth and one on the lower teeth.) You are supposed to wear the strips for 30 minutes, once per day. Crest claims that after the 20 daily treatments, you can remove 14 years of tooth stains.
However, strips don’t offer the custom fit of trays, which means you may notice some increased sensitivity if your gums come in contact with the whitening strips.
The best whitening trays
If you’re looking for more precision in your application to avoid gum sensitivity, your best bet is combining teeth whitening gel with mouth trays or guards like in the Opalescence Go 15% kit.
Pros: Effective, greater control over application, potentially less gum sensitivity
Cons: Expensive, may cause sensitivity
Pack count: 10 treatments
The benefit of using a mouth tray or mouth guard with gel is that, unlike white strips, you aren’t as likely to miss spots on the teeth or irritate your gums.
Opalescence is known for its whitening products in the dental industry. I’ve gotten amazing results with the Opalescence 35% formula, which is a syringe you squirt into your own trays and is slightly more intense. Heather Kunen, DDS, orthodontist and co-owner of Beam Street in New York recommended the Opalescence Go to Insider for how easy and mess-free the process is is to use to get that same high-quality whitening Opalescence is known for.
Dr. Hadaegh also likes this product, adding that the trays adapt to your teeth all the way to your molars. “They have 15% hydrogen peroxide, which means you only need to wear them for 15 to 20 minutes a day for five to 10 days. It also contains potassium nitrate and fluoride to help reduce sensitivity while strengthening enamel.”
However, because the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is so high, there’s a chance you may still experience some sensitivity, in which case it’s best to switch to a less concentrated alternative like Crest Whitestrips.
The best for sensitive teeth and gums
Zimba white strips whiten over 7 to 14 days without causing major tooth or gum sensitivity and come in tasty flavors.
Pros: Affordable, no-slip strips
Cons: Only covers front 10 teeth (upper and lower), takes about a week to whiten, whitening doesn’t last
Pack count: 14 treatments
If you’re looking for teeth whitening strips but have had issues with teeth sensitivity in the past, Kunen suggested Zimba white strips. It’s made with a gentle formula that uses a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide.
One box contains 28 stain-removing strips (14 upper, 14 lower) which cover your front 10 teeth on top and 10 on the bottom. The strips stay on pretty well with anti-slip technology and they’re slick, so there’s no gel or goop. Moreover, you can choose between two tasty flavors, coconut or mint.
Zimba says you’ll see whiter teeth in 14 days, and it truly does take at least one week to start seeing any difference. The major downside here is that the whitening doesn’t seem to last long — most reviewers say you have to use the strips regularly to maintain results. But that’s not surprising considering the formula is gentler, and considering these are about as cheap as you can get for an effective whitening kit, these are a great way to whiten before an event without breaking the bank. –Rachael Schultz, health and fitness updates editor
The best LED kit
If you don’t want to use strips and are determined to use an LED light, the SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Kit is the way to go.
Pros: Few reports of sensitivity issues, more precise application of whitening gel, reusable mouth guard
Cons: Expensive, dentists agree the LED light will not make a noticeable difference
Pack count: 14-28 treatments
The idea of LED teeth whitening kits has mixed reviews: Brands claim the light helps make teeth whitening more effective than traditional whitening strips or trays, but there aren’t any studies to support this claim and many dentists feel like they don’t speed up the process. Patrick Campbell, DDS put it succinctly when speaking with Insider: “Frankly, these products are not worth the money.”
That being said, LED whitening kits are probably as effective as the other options so they’re not a waste of money if you can find a well-priced option. Also, they come with whitening pens that allow you a bit more control in terms of the application so you can avoid your gums and any increased sensitivity, and they usually require you to spend less time per day with the formula on your teeth.
If you want to try an LED whitening kit, SmileDirectClub’s Teeth Whitening Kit is one of the most convenient choices and about the same price as non-LED options.
The direct-to-consumer kit includes a LED mouthguard to act as a catalyst for the hydrogen peroxide whitening formula. It only requires 10 minutes a day of use and comes with nine whitening pens (enough for two full treatments). When I tested the device, I found the company’s estimates to be conservative — I got more than double the use out of the pens than expected, which is a great value for the money.
I loved that the LED device just plugs into your smartphone for power.
The best natural kit
The Miswak Club Natural Teeth Whitening Kit is your best alternative if you’re looking for a natural, chemical-free approach to whitening your teeth.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to use, no added chemicals
Cons: Takes some getting used to, smells weird
Pack count: 40 treatments
Teeth-cleaning sticks known as Miswak have been used for thousands of years in what is now Pakistan, India, many African countries, and other parts of the world. And, a meta-analysis in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that the Miswak was just as effective for oral hygiene as the toothbrush and toothpaste used by Western cultures.
The Miswak Club Natural Teeth Whitening Kit features two Miswak root sticks with two carrying cases. Each stick will last for three weeks of daily use. Miswak comes from the Arak tree, and this product contains no pesticides or chemicals. Miswak Club offers a 120-day money-back guarantee if you do not have noticeably whiter teeth after using their kit.
It has a sweet musky smell (which some people like and others really don’t) and doesn’t make a mess. Some reviewers have noted that it may take a few weeks of daily use to notice effects and that the smell may be a bit off-putting.
The best for professional-level results
If you want the intenser results of whitening at a dentist’s office, but at home, the Linhart Teeth Whitening Collection uses a formula from cosmetic dentists in New York City.
Pros: Professional-grade results, easy to use
Cons: Expensive, LED has minimal proven advantage
“This whitening system was custom designed by high-end cosmetic dentists in New York City and utilizes the same whitening gel they use in their office on their patients,” Dr. Kunen, who has no affiliation with Linhart, explained.
The kit contains four syringes of 35% carbamide peroxide whitening gel, an LED whitening light to activate the gel, and a milder whitening gel to help maintain your results. It’s a bit pricier than other at-home kits but, as Kunen pointed out, “For those patients looking to replicate a chairside whitening experience, this is closest you will find!” –Rachael Schultz, health and fitness updates editor
What else we considered
What else we recommend
Glowup LED Kit ($35): This direct-to-consumer LED whitening start up will personalize the whitening formula to your level of tooth/gum sensivity and discoloration. The LED light is powered by your phone and requires 16 minutes of use. It only comes with three gel vials and the syringes aren’t the most intuitive to spread on your teeth, so SmileDirectClub is a better choice for most people. But if you have sensitive teeth and want lasting results, Glowup is a great option. (Read our full review here.)
Snow LED Kit ($149): This well-designed LED teeth whitening kit comes with 4 serum pens (no syringes) that are easy to apply precisely to your teeth. All four will last you 75 treatments. The mouthpiece is very comfortable to bite for the suggested 10 minutes and plugs into your phone for power. The kit is quite pricey, but I saw results after two uses, so the included treatments will allow a whole family to whiten regularly for basically all of time.
Opalescence PF 35% Whitening Gel ($45.49): This is a cheaper alternative to the Opalescence Go that Dr. Kunen and Dr. Hadaegh both recommend, delivering the same Carbamide Peroxide formula in a syringe. You’ll need to use your own mouth trays, but we can confirm it delivers whiter teeth after just a few 30-minute sessions.
Lumibrite 32% Whitening Gel($25): Dr. Hadaegh told Insider that Lumibrite causes little to no sensitivity, while also producing excellent whitening results due to its high concentration of Carbamide Peroxide. It does require custom bleaching trays.
Zoom NiteWhite 22% Whitening Gel ($30): NiteWhite is a clinical-grade tooth whitening gel of 22% Carbamide Peroxide. It’s medium strength, so it’s an excellent option for individuals who have some tooth sensitivity but want a whitening gel that’s not too strong or too weak, Hadaegh said.
HiSmile Whitening ($130): If whitening kits have left your teeth or gums sensitive in the past, Kunen suggested this brand which uses Pthalimidoperoxycaproic acid (PAP) as its principal whitening agent as opposed to the more traditional and harsher peroxides. It’s definitely more expensive than the other options, but it’s also super easy to use.
What we don’t recommend
GLO Teeth Whitening Kit ($150): Glo Science sells a similar device to SmileDirectClub; both use an LED mouthpiece to reportedly act as a catalyst for hydrogen peroxide. But SmileDirectClub is a better value at half the cost. We still recommend strips over gel and mouth trays over LED light options, though.
FAQs about whitening your teeth
What types of teeth whitening products exist?
There are essentially two types of kits: ones that bleach your teeth to take stains off and ones that physically scrape off the stains. Whitening trays and strips have been the standard for decades and generally rely on carbamide or hydrogen peroxide. Activated charcoal powders had a spike in popularity recently, but the dentists we interviewed would tell you to nix the powders. Ira Handschuh, DDS, cosmetic dentist at The Dental Design Center in White Plains, NY and Ania Mohelicki, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Boulder, CO both told Business Insider that they don’t recommend these because they can be abrasive and only remove surface stains.
There is a third type of teeth whitening product that simply blasts your teeth with LED light, which typically claims to speed up the process and achieve more intense results. However, most of the dentists we interviewed agreed that any gains from this treatment are short-lived or nonexistent. “Most studies show some difference detected by computers, but no visual difference detected by the human eye. For the studies conducted in actual patients (in vivo), most found no added benefit for light-activated systems,” Charles Sutera DDS, FAGD, a professional dentist at Aesthetic Smile Reconstruction in Waltham, MA told Insider.
Only the SmileDirectClub system in our guide uses this technology, but it is used in conjunction with a whitening gel and a mouthguard that may offer better control over your placement and avoid increased gum sensitivity in comparison to strips.
Which teeth whitening products are most effective?
“Shopping for teeth whitening products is very simple.” Dr. Sutera explained. “There is only one active ingredient in all teeth whitening products: hydrogen peroxide. It’s the same agent whether it’s prescription use or over the counter. Any other ingredients in the product are inactive fillers needed to create the right consistency of the product.” If you see carbamide peroxide on your ingredient list, it’s just a derivative of hydrogen peroxide.
“The key is to understand that whitening can be effective at any percentage, but what differs is the time of use. A high percentage of hydrogen peroxide typically is only kept on the teeth for 20 minutes maximum, while a lower percentage can be worn for 6 hours or overnight.” Dr. Sutera explains. “Much of the selection comes down to personal preference. If you have a tendency to develop tooth sensitivity or if you want to minimize the risks of irritating your gums, that’s when you’d select a lower concentration.”
A few warnings about teeth whitening kits
Peroxide is effective, but it comes with several warnings. Pregnant or nursing women may want to stop using peroxide-based whitening products. It also isn’t suitable for children under 14 years old. And, you should not use peroxide for longer than two weeks of daily use without the supervision of a dentist.
The FDA does not recommend using any whitening gels with a peroxide concentration of higher than 18%. Two of the kits we recommend use peroxide (Crest Whitestrips and SmileDirectClub) but they should be safe for most people.
Again, you should always consult with your dentist before starting a course of treatment. For instance, if your darkened teeth are due to the natural thinning of tooth enamel that comes with aging, whitening kits will not help you. Also, they cannot whiten fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, or caps.
Most importantly, Dr. Mohelicki says the biggest concern is wearing whitening kits for the right amount of time. “Over-the-counter options are inexpensive when compared to in-office whitening, but they offer no gum protection. With no gum protection, users can experience increased sensitivity and even burns in severe cases.”
How to use teeth whitening kits effectively
Before using a teeth whitening kit, brush your teeth so your whitening agent can make contact with the surface of your teeth to improve efficacy, and so it doesn’t accidentally create an uneven white. “Any buildup of plaque or food debris will not allow for the whitening agent to contact the tooth and therefore not allow the whitening agent to do its job,” Dr. Campbell explained. “You could end up with a speckled, uneven whitened appearance.”
And, after you’ve whitened, try to avoid food and drinks that stain your teeth.”I recommend that my patients stick to a ‘colorless diet’ just after whitening,” Dr. Handschuh told Business Insider. “Meaning, avoid highly-staining food and drink such as coffee, red wine, tea, sauces, etc.” But, if you really want to, he recommends using a straw to bypass your teeth a bit.
As Dr. Sutera explained, whitening your teeth and then having a glass of red wine is like “two people in a canoe paddling in different directions. The whitening products open the pores and clean them out. If you have coffee, tea, or red wine within 72 hours of whitening your teeth, your teeth are more likely to absorb dark stains and adversely impact your whitening results.”
Does teeth-whitening damage your enamel?
“Most studies show that whitening does not damage enamel,” Dr. Sutera said. Though, there has been recent research that shows teeth whitening can affect proteins deeper in the tooth, though researchers are not currently sure if the damage is temporary or permanent, according to Dr. Sutera.
How can you prevent tooth sensitivity?
“It is common for the majority of people to experience increased tooth sensitivity after having teeth whitening done.” Dr. Mohelicki says. “However, for those who already have sensitive teeth, I recommend starting out by trying a whitening toothpaste. This takes significantly longer than trying an over-the-counter product or having teeth bleached in-office, but it can be significantly less painful.”
For whitening toothpaste, Dr. Sutera recommends patients with sensitive teeth use a toothpaste with potassium nitrate and fluoride and also use a fluoride mouth rinse. According to Dr. Sutera, potassium nitrate is the primary ingredient that helps with sensitive teeth, and fluoride a secondary option that has also been shown to help.
If you have sensitive teeth and want to use a teeth whitening agent, you may just want to avoid higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. “The suggestion I would make is to use a lower concentration of whitening agent to get their desired whitening outcome while minimizing the risk of tooth sensitivity.” Dr. Campbell said. “Although anecdotal, I’ve found that brushing with Sensodyne toothpaste before and after whitening has helped me avoid sensitivity.”
Why do you feel increased sensitivity after you whiten?
The bleaching temporarily weakens your enamel so the bleach can pass through it and further lift those stains, explained Dr. Mohelicki. “When [our enamel] is weakened during the bleaching treatment, many patients find that it can be hard to consume hot beverages, ice-cold beverages, or even eat certain foods. This typically wears off within 72 hours of ending treatment.”
For this piece, we consulted a handful of different dentists for multiple perspectives:
- Ania Mohelicki, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Boulder, CO
- Ira Handschuh, DDS, cosmetic dentist at The Dental Design Center in White Plains, NY
- Patrick Campbell, DDS
- Charles Sutera DDS, FAGD, a professional dentist at Aesthetic Smile Reconstruction in Waltham, MA
- Neil Hadaegh DDS, a professional dentist in Beverly Hills
- Heather Kunen, DDS, orthodontist and co-owner of Beam Street in New York