How Does Teeth Whitening Toothpaste Work?


When you think of teeth whitening, your mind likely conjures up the dentist’s chair and a tray filled with bleaching strips. But there are other options available to those who want whiter pearly whites but don’t have time for an appointment or aren’t comfortable going under local anesthesia.

One such option is using toothpaste as part of your daily oral care routine — even if it doesn’t contain bleach per se.

You brush your teeth twice a day to keep them healthy and clean. You also use mouthwash once every hour to prevent bacteria from growing on your teeth and causing cavities and gum disease. So why do people often feel like they need professional help to get their smile looking its best?

It can be embarrassing to visit the dentist when all we want is to look our very best at home without spending hours slaving over a sink. For many people, this is where whitening toothpaste comes into play.

Teeth whitening has been around since ancient times. Hippocrates used hydrogen peroxide to treat yellowed teeth more than 2,000 years ago. Paracelsus described treating his patients’ stained gums with wine leached out through boiling water until they became white [sources: Kelleher; Sacks].

One of the first published reports regarding teeth bleaching occurred during World War II when researchers discovered that certain fruits could change the color of soldiers’ skin after eating them. Today, most dentists will recommend using some whitening product because stains caused by tea, coffee, and tobacco staining enamel are among the most common causes of discoloration.

There are two different types of products used in teeth whitening procedures: physical and chemical. While both work to remove surface stains, only one type affects more profound layers of enamel.

Some whitening agents include abrasive materials that rub away stain material from the outer layer of enamel (superficial stains). In contrast, others rely solely on hydrogen peroxide to break down lipids beneath the enamel (called deep stains).

The latter method may take longer to produce results, but research shows that long-term benefits outweigh short-term pain due to increased sensitivity.

To learn about which whitening toothpaste works best, read on.

Whitening Toothpaste Contain­s Mild Abrasives To Remove Stains

The most effective way to remove stains from teeth is to scrub them off with a gentle cleanser rather than rubbing vigorously. This removes plaque buildup and makes it easier to see the original shade of your teeth.

However, vigorous brushing can damage the protective covering called enamel. Enamel protects the softer tissue underneath, including the roots of the teeth, and should remain intact at all costs. Experts suggest gently cleaning your teeth with soft bristles instead of stiff wire brushes to protect enamel.

They also advise against purchasing special brushes intended for removing tartar buildups that promote periodontal health. Instead, buy a good-quality cleansing device that includes soft bristles, and make sure you’re rotating and switching directions regularly to avoid damaging the enamel.

While mild abrasion might not sound too harmful, enamel contains three distinct mineralization levels. As you age, these levels naturally wear down. Enamel begins demineralizing or losing calcium and phosphate ions when exposed to acids, salts, and sugars found in foods and beverages.

If left untreated, this process eventually weakens the entire structure, leaving behind porous areas known as “white spots” that allow food particles and microbes to accumulate between teeth and below the gumline.

Fortunately, enamel contains higher concentrations of minerals when compared to bone, muscle, and connective tissues, making it relatively less susceptible to acidic erosion.

If you’ve ever watched someone chew sugarless candy, then you know what happens when enamel erodes quickly. Not surprisingly, this leaves the person vulnerable to developing dental problems sooner. Experts say that any amount of acid exposure increases the risk of decay, gum inflammation, and infection.

Luckily, though, whitening toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) won’t cause much harm to the enamel. By comparison, fluoride kinds of toothpaste strengthen enamel by increasing resistance to acid attack.

Read on to determine whether adding peroxide to your regular toothpaste helps whiten faster.

Some Whitening Toothpaste Contains Peroxide For Enhanced Whitening Power

Most Americans admit they would prefer brighter smiles, regardless of their overall appearance. And according to recent studies, there are many ways to achieve whiter teeth outside of visiting the dentist.

Although whiteners typically come as trays worn over the top of your upper front teeth or as gel lozenges inserted directly into the cheek near the base of each tooth, consumers now have another option: whitening toothpaste. In addition to being safer and gentler than bleach strips or gels, whitening toothpaste offers several key advantages:

  1. Unlike other forms of whitening products, you can apply them anywhere — even before bedtime.
  2. Some brands provide extra strength to fight stubborn stains.
  3. Unlike strips or gels, you can choose from dozens of flavors to match your taste preferences.

It seems natural to assume that whitening toothpaste must perform better than standard varieties with these perks. Unfortunately, however, the jury is still out on this issue. According to a study conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA), no significant difference was observed in overall effectiveness between the two types of toothpaste.

On the bright side, the ADA recommends choosing a brand that uses activated carbons to absorb pigments contained in colored drinks, such as red wines or sodas.

A popular theory states that peroxide reacts chemically with organic substances to create free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules formed when oxygen combines with unsaturated fats, proteins, or carbohydrates.

These unstable compounds seek electrons to stabilize themselves and become stable atoms or molecules. In doing so, they destroy cancer cells and viruses, giving the body a more remarkable ability to resist infections.

Because of this potent property, scientists believe incorporating small amounts of peroxide into everyday household items, such as laundry detergents, fabric conditioners, and deodorants, could potentially kill dangerous microorganisms present within the human body.

Now that you understand how whitening toothpaste works, click here to discover specific ingredients in ADA-approved brands.

Choose ADA-Approved Whitening Toothpaste For The Best Results

In 2010, the US Food & Drug Administration approved Procter & Gamble’s Crest 3D Professional Whitestrips. Since the FDA approves new drugs based upon scientific evidence collected from clinical trials, these findings showed that the active ingredient in Procter & Gamble’s whitening formula provided noticeable improvements in brightness to 99 percent of participants.

Other leading companies offering similar formulas include Listerine Whitener, Johnson & Johnson White, Orajel Brightener Strips, Colgate Brilliant Smile, CVS Extra Strength Night Guard Advanced Stain Removal, Sensodyne Tartar Control, Pepcid AC DM Chewable Tablets, and Orbita White 1% Gel.

Although most manufacturers claim their products whiten teeth gradually over time, research suggests otherwise. After analyzing data from a 10-year clinical trial involving nearly 300 volunteers, dermatologists reported that 30 minutes of exposure to UV light followed by applying the whitening agent resulted in significantly whiter skin throughout the following week.

Regarding whitening effects, the same study found that applying 15 seconds of baking soda paste produced noticeably lighter teeth after 24 hours, although the product faded somewhat over the next few weeks.

Based upon these observations, the authors concluded that consumers shouldn’t expect immediately visible changes in tone or texture but rather a gradual improvement.

However, some individuals may experience adverse reactions to these products.

Therefore, it’s essential to consult a physician before beginning a whitening regimen. People allergic to aspirin, alcohol, menthol, peppermint oil, cinnamon extract, ginger root, or thimerosal should refrain from using whitening products altogether.

Also, anyone taking prescription medication should talk to their doctor before undergoing any form of whitening treatment. Finally, individuals wishing to maintain their current level of hygiene should consider waiting six months after having laser resurfacing treatments. Laser rays penetrate deeply, affecting collagen fibers located below the stratum corneum.

Jason Smith

I am a Marine who now works as a Web Developer. I have five US States left to visit. I like whiskey, wine, and coffee, soaking in hot springs or in my hot tub.

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