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Do Whitening Strips Work? Effectiveness, Results & Precautions

26 December 22.

Teeth whitening is a multi-billion dollar industry, and there are many over-the-counter options available. However, it’s hard to determine which treatment is right for you or if they are even worth it at all. But do teeth whitening strips and other whitening products actually work to whiten dull or yellowed teeth, you first need to consider several factors.

The short answer is yes. Teeth whitening strips can whiten your teeth by a shade or two and can act in as little as a few days.

But home products aren’t usually as effective as in-office dental whitening techniques. They also come with some risks such as increased tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.

Keep reading to learn about how teeth whitening strips work and which types of products are most effective.



How teeth whitening strips work

Teeth whitening strips have the potential to whiten your teeth by bleaching stains with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Carbamide peroxide is a molecule that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide when it comes into contact with water.

Peroxides in whitening strips penetrate the outer layer of your tooth called the enamel and enter the deeper dentin layer, where they bleach chromogens. Chromogens are pigmented molecules found inside and outside your tooth that cause staining.


Budget Considerations

One of the biggest reasons why you might peruse the drugstore for whitening strips is that they are relatively inexpensive. Typically, whitening strips cost anywhere from $30-50 for a box that has about 20 or so treatments.  This is significantly less than the several hundred dollars that professional teeth whitening treatments cost at a dental office. However, it is important to note that, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. That’s not to say that whitening strips don’t work; it simply means that the results vary and are certainly not guaranteed.


Staining categories

Staining can be divided into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic staining.

Extrinsic staining

Extrinsic staining affects the outside of your tooth and is largely caused by environmental factors such as:


certain foods and drinks such as coffee, wine, dark berries


exposure to metals such as iron or copper

Intrinsic staining

Intrinsic staining affects the inside of your tooth. It’s caused by factors such as:

age-related enamel erosion



exposure to high levels of fluoride

tooth development disorders

Whitening strips target both extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Whitening strips can target both types of stains. Stains caused by aging, genetics, smoking, or coffee are generally the fastest to respond to bleachingTrusted Source. Yellowish aging stains also respond well.

Whitening strips may be best used when you’re trying to make a small touch-up to your tooth color.


What’s Your Starting Point?

Another thing you need to consider before trying over-the-counter whitening products is how discolored your teeth are currently. The effectiveness of any whitening treatment, in large part, depends on the starting point of your teeth.

Discolored teeth can be the result of intrinsic factors such as heredity, aging or medical conditions. They can also be the result of smoking and diet. Teeth whitening strips that you can buy at the drug store tend to work better on teeth affected by external factors (smoking or frequently drinking coffee, tea, soda and wine). Intrinsic tooth discoloration is typically more difficult to change and may require professional treatments.  


Desired Results

If you do find an over-the-counter product that works, it may not get your teeth as white as you would like. Professional teeth whitening usually has much more dramatic results since dentists are able to use solutions that are much stronger than hydrogen peroxide, the main bleaching agent in over-the-counter products. Typically, professional whitening can make teeth several shades whiter in a shorter amount of time than whitening strips.

In addition, you also need to consider how much of the tooth surface can be covered with the whitening strip. The strips are made of flexible plastic, with one side coated with a bleaching agent.  The strips are placed on both the top and bottom teeth and molded to try to cover the entire surface of the tooth. It isn’t easy to ensure that all visible surfaces come in contact with the whitening strip, especially along your gum line and between your teeth. This can result in uneven whitening.


How Long Until Results Can Be Seen?

Over-the-counter whitening strips can take some time and more than a little patience.  Some whitening strips are recommended to be worn for 15 minutes per treatment and others are recommended for up to 30 minutes.  Some treatments are to be worn once a day, and others suggest twice a day. Regardless, whitening strips gradually lighten teeth shade by shade and can take up to several months to achieve the desired results.

In most cases, professional treatments can produce whiter teeth after just one dental office visit. Teeth whitening strips need to be used consistently and must become a part of your daily routine in order to achieve dramatic results. For some, it may be more desirable to visit the dentist two to three times for professional treatments rather than wait months for a dramatic change.  

Typically, you use whitening strips twice per day for 2 weeks. You usually leave them on for about 30 minutes at a time.

Tooth lightening can be seen in as little as several days and can lighten your teeth by a shade or two. Some products may only require you to apply them once per day but can deliver the same results.

Risks and precautions to be aware of

Teeth whitening strips are known to cause increased tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. Usually, these symptoms are mild.

Tooth sensitivity usually starts at the time of treatment and lasts for several days. Gum irritation may start within a day of treatment and also typically lasts for several days.


How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

To be fair, neither whitening strips nor professional whitening treatments are meant to be permanent. Both methods need to be repeated for the same white shade to be maintained. On average, the white shade achieved with whitening strips lasts for about six months. Professional treatments typically last for about two years.


What About Safety?  

While teeth whitening strips are safe, they aren’t necessarily foolproof.  In some cases, they might be left on too long, causing tooth sensitivity or even damage to tooth enamel.  And even though they use a milder solution than professional whitening treatments, the strips do contain pretty harsh chemicals. Some people may have adverse reactions to these chemicals, including irritated and swollen gums.

If you decide to go with professional teeth whitening treatments, your dentist will take precautions to protect your teeth and gums. The treatments will take place in a controlled environment and be performed by trained professionals.

The bottom line when it comes to safety is that even if you choose to use over-the-counter teeth whitening strips, you should first consult with your dentist. Your dentist can evaluate your overall oral health and may also recommend the best products for your teeth and give advice on how to avoid any problems when using the whitening strips.

 Do Whitening Strips Work? Effectiveness, Results


The answer to the question of whether teeth whitening strips are worth it is… it depends. There are many factors to consider and it really comes down to your individual situation. Regardless, it is best to have a discussion with your dentist to determine whether over-the-counter teeth whitening strips will give you the results you want or if professional treatments will be a better solution.

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