Like it or not, your smile can make a big first impression (heck, there’s research to prove it). When your teeth are looking a little dull and lackluster—perhaps from one too many cups of coffee or glasses of wine—the best whitening toothpastes are on your side. Although they’re much less powerful than at-home whitening kits and professional bleaching treatments, they’re a simple and affordable solution to achieving pearlier whites over time.
“Whitening toothpastes can be effective at removing surface stains and help brighten the overall appearance of the teeth,” says Dr. Ben El Chami, DMD. “They work by using mild abrasives and chemicals, like silica or baking soda, to remove superficial stains. Some also contain enzymes or bleaching agents, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, to help break down or lighten deeper stains,” he adds.
And because they contain a lower concentration of active whitening ingredients that can be sensitizing, these toothpastes are typically a gentler brightening method for those who prefer it.
While perusing your local drugstore aisle, Dr. El Chami says to look for whitening toothpastes that do double duty to keep teeth healthy, via ingredients like fluoride and xylitol. “Despite being a somewhat controversial ingredient, fluoride has widely been scientifically proven to be safe for strengthening teeth against cavities,” he mentions. “Meanwhile, xylitol is a natural sweetener that helps reduce bacteria and prevent plaque buildup.”
What’s more, it’s a good idea to seek options that carry the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. (The organization only accepts products that are made with fluoride.) “This seal indicates that the toothpaste has been evaluated by the ADA and found to be safe and effective for its intended use,” Dr. El Chami explains. “If you want to use a product without the ADA seal, make sure to speak with your dentist first.”
To guide you on your journey towards a whiter smile, we consulted Dr. El Chami on his favorite picks and scoured tons of top-rated products to compile the eight best whitening toothpastes, below. From all-natural selects to gentle options formulated specifically for people with sensitive mouths, these toothpastes will actually make you excited to brush.
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Colgate Total Whitening Toothpaste
|Stannous fluoride, hydrated silica, citric acid
|4.8 oz., pack of 2
Best Natural Whitening Toothpaste
Tom’s of Maine
Simply White Toothpaste
|Sodium Fluoride, hydrated silica
Another Great Natural Option
Naturally Whitening Fluoride Toothpaste
|Sodium fluoride, hydrated silica, calcium carbonate, xylitol, coconut oil
Best-Tested Whitening Toothpaste
Optic White Advanced Toothpaste, 3-Pack
|Sodium fluoride, 2% hydrogen peroxide
Best Whitening Toothpaste With Baking Soda
Arm & Hammer
Dental Care Toothpaste, Pack of 3
|Baking soda, sodium fluoride
|6.3 oz., pack of 3
Best Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth
Pronamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste
|Hydrated silica, sodium fluoride
|4 oz., pack of 3
Best Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Gums
Whitening Toothpaste for Bleeding Gums
|Stannous fluoride, hydrated silica
Best Whitening Toothpaste Tablets
Toothpaste Bits, Pack of 2
|Xylitol, Nano-Hydroxyapatite (N-Hap), calcium carbonate
|62 tablets in one jar
What are some of the main causes of tooth yellowing and stains?
Tooth discoloration can be caused by a range of factors. Per Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common culprits include consuming wine, tea, and coffee and smoking or chewing tobacco. Tooth staining can also be a result of factors like genetics, using certain medications, or having poor dental hygiene (translation: don’t forget to brush or floss consistently).
How effective are whitening toothpastes?
“It’s important to keep in mind that the effectiveness of whitening toothpastes can be limited, and they should not be used as a substitute for professional teeth whitening treatments,” says Dr. El Chami. “Over-the-counter whitening toothpastes aren’t as potent as prescription gels or in-office treatments, especially when it comes to removing deep stains or lightening the natural color of the teeth.”
“For whiter teeth, it’s also important to maintain good oral hygiene habits and to see your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings,” he adds.
What about charcoal toothpastes? How effective are they at removing stains?
“Charcoal toothpaste contains activated charcoal, which is a fine powder made from coconut shells, bamboo, or other natural materials that have been treated to increase their porosity and surface area,” explains Dr. El Chami. “These types of formulas have become increasingly popular in recent years as a natural substitute for traditional whitening toothpaste. However, there isn’t enough research to confirm the efficacy of charcoal as a whitening agent. It’s important to consult your dentist before using charcoal toothpaste, especially if you have any dental issues or are undergoing any dental treatment,” he adds.
Are there certain ingredients in whitening toothpastes that can cause sensitivity?
Yes. “The most common bleaching agents are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide,” explains Dr. El Chami. “The higher the concentration of the bleaching agent, the more effective the toothpaste will be at whitening the teeth. Still, it’s important to be aware that toothpastes with higher concentrations of bleaching agents can cause more tooth sensitivity.” And while typically milder, abrasives such as silica or baking soda can also sensitize nerves “if the concentration is too high or if the toothpaste is used too frequently,” he says. Similarly, “citric acid can erode the tooth enamel and cause tooth sensitivity if used in high concentrations.”
If you have sensitive teeth or gums, look for toothpastes that are specially formulated to be gentle, Dr. El Chami notes. And remember, “it’s always best to consult with your dentist before starting any whitening regimen,” he says.
How often should you use a whitening toothpaste?
“This depends on the specific product at hand and the condition of your teeth,” says Dr. El Chami. “In general, it is recommended to use a whitening toothpaste in place of your regular toothpaste, twice a day, as part of your regular oral hygiene routine.”
“Keep in mind that while whitening toothpastes can help to brighten your teeth, they can also cause tooth sensitivity and abrasion if overused,” he warns.
When should I expect to see results?
“The amount of time it takes to see change from using a whitening toothpaste can fluctuate depending on the specific product you are using, the condition of your teeth, and how often you use the toothpaste,” says Dr. El Chami. “Some people may see results within a few days of starting to use a whitening toothpaste, others may take several weeks or longer to see a noticeable difference.”
Dr. Ben El Chami is is the co-founder and chief dental officer of dntl bar in New York City.
Sam Peters is a seasoned commerce writer and editor with over five years of experience covering fashion, beauty, and lifestyle topics. For this roundup, she consulted a dentist about his recommendations for the best whitening toothpastes, how to use them, and what to look for when shopping. She also considered a range of top-rated whitening toothpastes on the market, evaluating each on their ingredients offered and customer feedback.
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