Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?

This question is among the most common that we receive, and the answer is… sort of! There are two types of staining that teeth can experience, and you need to understand these in order to make sense of our answer.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Tooth Stains: What’s the Difference?

Surface/extrinsic staining refers to external stains from things like smoking and pigments in beverages and foods (coffee and wine are two major offenders). Intrinsic staining, on the other hand, is internal–it occurs within the tooth, and its causes are much more difficult to address. Age and genetics are among the main causes.

Whitening toothpaste can only be effective in addressing one of these types of stains, and we’ll bet that you can guess which one. Extrinsic, or surface, stains can be helped through the regular use of a whitening toothpaste. How? Read on.

How Do Whitening Toothpastes Work?

Extrinsic tooth stains can be removed in two basic ways: by physical force, or by chemical reaction. Those might sound like scary things to associate with innocent tooth brushing, but they are exactly what make whitening toothpastes so effective.

Whitening toothpastes feature two important ingredients that correspond to those two methods of removal. As Thomas J. Salinas explains, writing for the Mayo Clinic: “Unlike other tooth-whitening products, whitening toothpastes don’t contain peroxide. To remove surface stains, whitening toothpaste typically includes: Special abrasives that gently polish the teeth [and] chemicals that help break down or dissolve stains.” And some whitening toothpastes even include a chemical that binds to your teeth in order to make them appear brighter and whiter.

But whitening toothpastes have their limitations. For starters, studies demonstrate that “Whitening toothpastes typically can lighten tooth color by about one or two shades.” So, you can expect modest improvement, but your natural tooth color cannot be drastically changed from this intervention. Also, whitening toothpastes take time to work. You can expect to see a difference sometime between three and six weeks after you’ve begun regular use of a whitening toothpaste, so don’t expect overnight success.

Buying the Right Whitening Toothpaste

When choosing a whitening toothpaste, be sure to select options that feature a seal of approval from the American Dental Association. This seal gives you assurance that the product you’re buying will work as intended.

Besides the seal of approval, the whitening toothpaste you choose should be suited to you. Maybe your teeth are on the sensitive side. Perhaps you prefer more natural cleaning agents. Or maybe you’re looking for the heaviest duty whitening on the market. Here is an overview of some brands that may respond to your individual needs and preferences. But remember: don’t expect overnight results. Stay consistent, and you will see some improvements!