Do whitening toothpastes actually work?

We spoke to three experts to find out

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / April 05 2024

While getting a tan or applying a blue-based red lipstick can help make your teeth appear whiter, they’re only temporary fixes. Luckily, there is a slew of whitening treatments and products on the market that promise to help you achieve a more-permanent whiter and brighter smile. And while we’ve already delved into the benefits of professional teeth whitening treatments, as well as a number of at-home teeth whitening options, we wanted to find out whether whitening toothpastes (which are arguably the most common method of teeth whitening) actually work. To help us do just that, we spoke to holistic dentist Dr Lewis Ehrlich; Dr Aodhan Docherty from About Smiles Dental Centre; and General and Cosmetic Dentist from Smile Solutions, Dr Amelia Judson.      

How whitening toothpastes work

Dr Ehrlich explains that abrasive substances like hydrated aluminium oxides and calcium carbonate are added to a toothpaste formula to help remove stains. Dr Docherty adds that that these substances “have rougher textures that enable them to rub off stains attached to the outside surface of the teeth”. He also notes that some whitening toothpastes are formulated with peroxide (the gold standard of whitening ingredients) to “pull stains that have started to sink in from our foods and drinks, out of our teeth”.

The expected results

But can we expect whitening toothpastes to deliver quality results? Yes and no, says Dr Ehrlich. Although whitening toothpastes can remove surface stains, Dr Ehrlich says you shouldn’t purchase a product expecting it to completely transform your smile. Dr Docherty adds that while peroxide is an effective ingredient for whitening teeth, there’s a limit to how effective it can be in these type of toothpastes. He explains, “peroxide must be used in a high-enough concentration to result in whitening and [needs to] be used for long enough”. He adds, “the issues that stem from that are, firstly, we can’t put peroxides in toothpaste in really high concentrations because they are not being confined to just the teeth – because it’s going all over the mouth, a high concentration can irritate gums and cheeks. And secondly, when we use peroxide, even in a dental setting, it needs to sit on the teeth for a relatively long amount of time [some professional whitening treatments are left on for up to an hour]. Cross this with most people brushing for much less than two minutes and you can see why even good whitening toothpastes will have some limitations to their potential effects.” If you’re after dramatic results, Dr Ehrlich says you should look into professional whitening treatments because “they’ll always be superior to simply using whitening toothpastes”. 

Are whitening toothpastes recommended for those with sensitive teeth?

“Generally speaking, whitening toothpastes aren’t recommended for those with sensitive teeth as they can exacerbate the sensitivity the patient is feeling,” says Dr Ehrlich. With that being said, there are a number of whitening toothpastes available that haven’t been formulated with peroxide (the ingredient that tends to be the most irritating). Instead of peroxide, these toothpastes use gentler, non-irritating detergents such as potassium nitrate to lift stains.

The best whitening toothpastes

If you’re looking for a quality whitening toothpaste, Judson has three top recommendations: “my top picks are Colgate Optic White High Impact White™ Toothpaste, Marvis Whitening Mint Toothpaste and Sensodyne Toothpaste Gentle White.” She’s a fan of Colgate’s Optic White Toothpaste because “it uses a combination of hydrogen peroxide to lift stains and gritty silica to polish off the top stained layer of the tooth. It’s definitely one of the more powerful toothpastes on the market.” She adds, Marvis’ Whitening Mint Toothpaste “is the one for you if you use fluoride-free toothpastes and are concerned about using peroxides on your teeth. It uses silica to polish teeth, so just make sure you check with your dentist to make sure you aren’t being too over-zealous and wearing away too much of the tooth.” And last but not least, Judson recommends Sensodyne’s Toothpaste Gentle White for those who “have sensitive or damaged teeth. It does not contain peroxide or silica, which have a tendency to irritate sensitive teeth. Instead, it uses a detergent to gently remove stains.”

Colgate Optic White High Impact White™ Toothpaste

Marvis Whitening Mint Toothpaste

Sensodyne Toothpaste Gentle White

The best whitening strips

If your whitening toothpaste endeavors aren’t quite reaching that truly dazzling shade of white you’re after, then why not add in a hard-hitting whitening strip to your oral care routine? The easy to apply strips often are able to penetrate the enamel (safely) deeper than regular brushing (even with a whitening toothpaste) is able to. Most options are recommended to be left on from anywhere between 10-30 minutes to start seeing results. The Oral-B 3D White Whitestrips ($54.99 at Priceline) offer major results in just five days. The hydrogen peroxide formula works to break down not only surface level stains but even goes deeper to remove built in stains below the tooth's surface. 

Oral-B 3D White Whitestrips

Looking for more ways to improve your oral health? Then discover why the health of your mouth is so much more important than you might think.

Do you use a whitening toothpaste? Share your product recommendations with us in the comments below. 

Main image credit: Getty

Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.