Fact Checked

How Do Teeth Whitening Strips Work?

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

July 21, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

If you visit your local drugstore, you'll see many at-home teeth whitening products. Many of these products are just as effective as professional teeth whitening treatments.

You'll see a variety of tooth whitening strips, trays that come with a whitening gel and LED mouthpiece devices.

Whitening strips are incredibly convenient for lifting surface stains. You can apply whitening strips and whiten your teeth while you work, sleep, or run errands.

However, do whitening strips work? Yes, they do. Teeth whitening strips lift extrinsic stains from your tooth enamel.

This article will cover the benefits of whitening strips, how they work, and how to use them.

Benefits of teeth whitening

Increases confidence

Your smile is one of the first things people notice about you. In a poll conducted by Snow Teeth Whitening, results found that 70% of Americans admit they feel insecure about their teeth. Nearly 60% admitted to covering their mouth when they laughed.

There's a psychological connection between your teeth, self-esteem, and confidence. Smiling is a way to connect with others and express yourself. If you spend years hiding your smile, it could lead to low self-esteem and self-consciousness. Improving your smile will also boost your self-confidence.

Removes stubborn stains

It's common for natural teeth to become stained over time. Coffee, red wine, smoking, and dark-tinted foods cause your tooth enamel to become discolored and stained.

The good thing is that at-home solutions or a professional whitening treatment can lift stubborn tooth stains. Brands such as Crest Whitening Strips and Snow's Magic Whitening Strips safely whiten teeth.

Convenient and effective

At-home whitening strips and other products are super convenient. Many people whiten their teeth during meetings, while they're working from home, or while you're commuting. Whitening strips are virtually undetectable, and you're still able to talk while you're wearing them.

Whitening strips are also affordable in comparison to in office treatments. Most white strips cost $25 to $50 while in office treatments may cost anywhere between $500 and $1200.

snow teeth whitening kit

How do whitening strips work?

Here's how whitening strips work to whiten your teeth.

Active ingredients

Most teeth whitening treatments have hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Two powerful active ingredients that help whiten teeth. Both peroxides are effective; they just work in different ways.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide breaks down faster and releases most of its whitening power within the first hour. This is what most dentists use during professional teeth bleaching procedures. However, the concentration that they use is much higher compared to what you can find at the drug store.

Carbamide peroxide

Carbamide peroxide is released more slowly. Carbamide peroxide releases about 50% of its whitening power in the first two hours and then gradually works for six-plus more hours. A slower release product is recommended for people with sensitive teeth.

Extrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains affect the outside of your enamel. These stains are caused by dark-pigmented foods and drinks such as coffee, red wine, berries, and tomato sauce. They're also caused by smoking, tobacco usage, alcohol consumption, and certain medications.

The best way to minimize extrinsic stains is to limit foods and beverages that stain your teeth.

Intrinsic stains

Intrinsic staining is related to the inside of your tooth. Intrinsic stains are caused by age, genetics, enamel erosion, dental disorders, and excessive fluoride exposure.

Teeth whitening strips work by tackling extrinsic and intrinsic stains. They can lift your teeth a few shades whiter. If you need a heavier lift with intrinsic stains, you may need to have your teeth whitened professionally.

How to use whitening strips

Teeth whitening strips can work wonders on your natural teeth. Directions vary by brand; however, these steps will give you a general idea.

Here are the steps to follow when using whitening strips.

  1. Read the instructions carefully.

    Every brand is different. Understanding the directions will help set you up for success. You'll also want to read the side effects and ingredient list to ensure you're not allergic to anything.

  2. Brush your teeth.

    Before using the whitening strips, you'll first want to clean your teeth first. Brush your teeth 30 to 60 minutes before your whitening treatment. Getting rid of any food particles will make the whitening strips more effective.

  3. Apply the strips.

    Apply the top whitening strip and the bottom whitening strip. The side with the whitening gel goes on your teeth, and the smooth side should be facing you.

    Gently press the whitening strips to ensure they're making contact with every tooth surface. Try to keep the strips away from your gum tissue as much as possible.

  4. Set a timer and whiten your teeth.

    Now that the strips are on, it's all about waiting and being patient. Every brand has its own recommended wear time. Ensure that you only leave the strips on for the designated amount of time.

    When whitening teeth, be sure not to touch the strips. You'll also want to keep your mouth slightly open to help reduce saliva buildup.

  5. Remove the strips.

    After the designated treatment time, you're free to take off the strips. Gently peel off each whitening strip. To remove the bleaching gel, you can brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water. Be careful not to swallow any of the gel.

    After your home whitening treatment do not eat for an hour. Your teeth are porous after treatment and need time to remineralize.

  6. Repeat the treatment.

    You'll need to use whitening strips every day for a few weeks to see results. Keep using the strips per the brand's recommended amount of time. You'll notice whiter teeth in 7 to 14 days.

Tips
  • Stop using strips if you feel excess sensitivity. Every one is different, some people are more sensitive to the chemicals found in whitening products. Take a break and try again in a few days. The first few treatments may cause a sensitive reaction.

  • If your gums are hurting, take a Q-tip and brush away any whitening gel that may have made it's way onto your gums. Ideally, you don't want any bleaching gel on your gums. It can cause irritation or whitening of the gums.

  • Don't use whitening strips too frequently. Overusage of any teeth whitening product can lead to gum irritation and sensitive teeth. Always follow the directions. Using more whitening strips in a day or leaving them on for way too long can compromise your oral health. Be patient with the process.

  • Ask your dentist for recommendations. Your dentist can give you a high-level rundown of tooth bleaching procedures. They can also recommend the best whitening treatment for your unique needs.

Ways to maintain white teeth

There are strategies you can implement in your routine to maintain a brighter smile. What you eat matters and so do your oral hygiene habits.

Here are some ways to keep your teeth white.

Avoid dark-pigmented food and drinks

Coffee, red wine, berries, and sports drinks gradually stain your teeth. Try limiting your consumption of these types of foods.

However, if you simply can't resist, consider using a straw when consuming drinks that stain. This can help ensure that the beverage makes less direct contact with your teeth. Afterward, brush your teeth or rinse with water.

Brush your teeth every day

Use whitening toothpaste and brush your teeth and floss every day. Proper dental care ensures your gum line and teeth stay healthy. Consider also using a antiseptic mouthwash to kill oral bacteria.

Visit the dentist's office

Schedule your annual cleanings and visit the dentist to keep your oral health in top condition. A dentist will take x-rays, check for gum disease, and fill cavities. Keeping your teeth in good shape will also make whitening kits more effective.

Stop smoking

Smoking and tobacco usage is one of the leading causes of tooth loss and decay. Not only does it erode away enamel, it also discolors teeth. Cigarette smoke and chewing tobacco can give your teeth a gray, yellow, or brown tinge.

Habitual smoking can even lead to gum disease or periodontal disease. If you're a smoker, consider quitting to improve your cardiovascular and dental health.

Frequently asked questions

How long will it take to see results?

It typically takes 7 to 14 days to see noticeable results. It depends on the brand of teeth whitening product and it's important that you follow the directions. Typically, tooth whitening strips are used twice a day for 30 to 6o minutes at a time.

You may notice your teeth look whiter after a few days. However, expect the best results after a few weeks.

Can I brush my teeth after using whitening strips?

Yes! It's safe to brush and floss after you've used teeth whitening strips. In fact, it's encouraged. It won't negate the whitening ingredients that were on your teeth since you already had the strips on for the designated amount of time.

Brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Your teeth and gums may be more sensitive after treatment.

Are teeth whitening strips safe?

Yes, teeth whitening strips at home, and professional treatments are considered safe by the American Dental Association. As long as you use the product as directed, it's safe.

Excessive usage can lead to a translucent appearance, loss of enamel, tooth decay, and extreme gum irritation. Make sure that you're spacing out your treatments accordingly. This will ensure your teeth stay healthy.

What are the side effects?

The most common side effect of teeth whitening products is tooth sensitivity. The whitening agents in teeth whitening strips may cause mild gum irritation and tooth sensitivity.

It takes a few days for sensitivity to subside. Visit your dental office if you're feeling any abnormal pain or discomfort that lasts longer than 48 hours.

Summary

At home whitening strips are an effective way to brighten your teeth. Teeth whitening products help increase a person's confidence and they're effective and convenient to use.

The powerful active ingredients that lift stubborn stainds are hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These bleaching ingredients help remove extrinsic and intrinsic stains.

Using teeth whitening strips is very easy and just requires a few breezy steps. Allows thoroughly follow the brand directions and only leave the strips on for the recommended amount of time. Over usage can lead to pain or discomfort.

You'll need to ensure you're doing your part and maintaining your pearly whites by limiting food and drinks that stain your teeth, practicing good oral hygiene, and scheduling visits with your dentist. You'll also want to avoid smoking and tobacco usage.

It's normal to feel tooth sensitivity for a few hours or days after a treatment. This is due to the ingredients found in bleaching gels. Teeth whitening strips are considered safe and effective by the American Dental Association as long as they're used as directed.

snow teeth whitening kit