Many toothpastes make whitening claims. In fact, on a recent trip to the grocery store, upon carefully studying the offerings in the oral care section, I couldn’t find a brand that didn’t make a such a claim. Let’s cut through all the hype here and give you the straight story.
Does whitening toothpaste really work?
The answer is a qualified “yes”.
Here is the key to understanding this: Toothpastes only remove surface stains. When your dentist whitens your teeth, you wear a tray and you put a peroxide gel in the tray. The gel soaks into your tooth and actually bleaches the tooth structure. Toothpastes aren’t on your teeth long enough to actually bleach. But they can remove surface stains, and most of them do a decent job of that. They contain an abrasive that scrubs away the stains.
As a cosmetic dentist, however, I worry a little about abrasive toothpastes. They can damage cosmetic dental bonding, or wear away slight amounts of tooth structure. That’s why, when people ask me to recommend the best whitening toothpaste, I tell them that my clear favorite is Supersmile. Rather than using an abrasive, it gently dissolves the protein pellicle on your tooth to which the stains attach.
You probably haven’t heard of Supersmile, though, because it isn’t sold in drugstores with the other toothpastes. It’s manufacturer, realizing its unique benefits and the power of endorsements by dentists, originally restricted its distribution to dental offices. In the Internet age, it has expanded its marketing to allow you to buy it from their company website. Since I am a fan, I offered it to my dental patients for cost, and now provide a link to a place where you can buy it at a discount. Click here to read more about Supersmile and to find out how to buy it.
But don’t expect a whitening toothpaste to whiten your teeth like your dentist would. People may imagine are imagining that their teeth are going to go to a lighter shade, just like their friend’s teeth, who paid her dentist $495 for a set of trays and some bleaching gel, and now her teeth light up the room in the dark.
It doesn’t work like that. The professional teeth whitening treatments all consist of some type of oxidizing agent, such as a peroxide, that soaks into the tooth and lightens the very structure of the tooth. It’s impossible for a whitening toothpaste that is on the teeth usually for a maximum of one minute, to soak into the teeth and perform that kind of bleaching. The best you can hope for is to get rid of all the surface stains.
So what you see in the store, as you may have suspected, is a lot of hype. The toothpastes may have peroxide in them, which is the same ingredient you find in tooth bleaching gels. But it’s the abrasive in the toothpaste that removes the stains. For me, I ignore all those whitening claims.
The Best Whitening Toothpaste
Going back to Supersmile, which is the most effective at stain removal in my opinion—we could make an analogy to a carpet whitening product. None of the products actually bleach the carpet to a lighter shade than is natural, the way your dentist would bleach your teeth. They are more like vacuum cleaners that clean off the dirt. Supersmile I would compare to a carpet shampooer.
This product, while it doesn’t penetrate to the inside of the tooth, does dissolve the outer protein pellicle layer that many tooth stains attach to. Thus it removes many problems like tobacco stains that otherwise require a professional cleaning in a dental office (though it will not remove the tartar). It gets teeth as white as you’re going to get, in my opinion, short of tooth bleaching treatments.
When I practiced cosmetic dentistry, I would give a tube of Supersmile to each bleaching patient to use during their bleaching treatments and afterward, because it would keep new stains from soaking into the teeth. Dr. George Freedman, tooth bleaching expert and former president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, said, “Supersmile is the most effective whitening toothpaste that we have in dentistry today.”
So the stuff you buy in the drugstore can contain peroxide, titanium dioxide, baking soda, or Tide laundry detergent. The whitening power is pretty much going to be confined to its ability to get the dirt off your teeth. That’s about it.