Question: What is the best whitening toothpaste? Answer: The best whitening toothpaste is actually a toothbrush. Let me explain.
You can’t whiten your teeth with a toothpaste. Toothpaste can’t penetrate the tooth for what we call intrinsic whitening, which is a change in color of the tooth.
The very best we can expect from a toothpaste is extrinsic whitening, which is removing stains that sit on the exterior surface of the teeth. To remove these stains, the toothbrush you use matters much more than the toothpaste—I detail my method for extrinsic whitening below.
Step 1: What Kind of Results Are You Looking For?
When people come to my office wanting to whiten their teeth, in most cases, what they really want is for their teeth to be as white as they once were—these people are interested in extrinsic whitening.
Others want their teeth to be whiter than natural, like the shades we’ve grown accustomed to seeing many celebrities have. This kind of whitening—instrinsic whitening—is never possible with a toothpaste and requires white strips or, the most effective option, a tray system.
If you’re not sure which category you fit in, try my method for extrinsic whitening at home with an electric toothbrush (below). It’s cheaper, and you can start here to see if you like the results first before trying the more expensive intrinsic whitening methods.
Why Whitening Toothpaste Doesn’t Work the Way You Think
You cannot change the color of your teeth with a toothpaste. To get color change of the teeth, you have to hold a whitening gel against the teeth for at least an hour or two for a couple of weeks. This is done with a product that contains carbamide peroxide—most commonly white strips or, ideally, at-home whitening trays made by your dentist. This is the only way you can get teeth whiter than the teeth you were born with. Years and years of using a whitening toothpaste won’t do anything more than remove extrinsic staining.
What a whitening toothpaste is good for is removing extrinsic staining. These are the stains that buildup over time with the food we eat, breathing with our mouths open, and not flossing and brushing properly.
A whitening toothpaste is grainier and more abrasive than regular toothpaste, and those particles act as a polishing agent to break down the biofilm buildup and remove staining.
How to Whiten Teeth at Home with a Toothbrush
To remove extrinsic staining, I recommend using an Oral-B electric toothbrush with a special head, along with a whitening toothpaste for polishing.
- Use a whitening toothpaste for polishing. I recommend this one from Rembrandt. Use it for a period of 2-3 weeks until you get the desired result. I would NOT use it on a regular basis.
- Use an electric toothbrush. I recommend the Oral-B Braun for this since it does the best job of reducing the biofilm. Any Oral-B electric model—from the 1000 to the 7000—will do the job. (Check out my review of the Oral-B 7000.)
- Get a toothbrush head that removes stains more effectively: For the Oral-B, I recommend the 3D White Brush Head or the Cross Action Brush Head. These head types are best at removing the biofilm and that’s where the extrinsic staining happens. All Oral-B toothbrushes do not come with these heads, you have to buy them separately.
- Brush properly using this method.
Keep your teeth white by minimizing extrinsic staining:
- Mouth tape: Ever woken up with drool on the pillow? Most of us breathe through our mouths at night while asleep. This dries out the mouth, letting the biofilm (and extrinsic stains) buildup on the teeth. If you don’t eat a lot of staining foods but still have teeth staining, you’re probably mouth breathing. By mouth taping, you ensure that your mouth doesn’t dry out and your teeth are better protected from extrinsic stains.
- Get more frequent teeth cleanings: Your hygienist polishes with a professional strength paste, so s/he can do an even better job removing stains. Bump up your recall from 6 months to 4 months if you notice extrinsic staining building up quickly.
- Brush after every staining food or drink: Coffee, red wine, kombucha, blueberries, grapefruit, and tea (just to name a few) all cause teeth staining. Stash a toothbrush in your bag or car with a Dr. Tung’s toothbrush sanitzer for on-the-go dry brushing to break down the buildup of the pellicle in between meals and snacks. (Here are more foods that stain your teeth.)
Follow these tips every day, and you’ll notice the difference. This is a great system to use for your whole life to keep your teeth bright and healthy looking.
If you want to whiten your teeth, I recommend you read my Know Before You Go: Whitening guide.
Dr. Mark Burhenne