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What to Know Before You Buy Teeth Whitening Products

  • teeth whitening
8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

While your less-than-pearly white teeth may be completely normal, you’re still craving those star-quality ivories, leading many people to the teeth whitening path.

With so many products on the market today, one is bound to work for you!

So, before you grab a teeth whitener and start using it, read on to learn everything you need to know about getting that dazzling smile — safely.

Why Are Your Teeth Yellow?

When that first new adult tooth pops through our gums, it’s almost always perfectly white. Biologically speaking, it has a strong outer layer full of robust, healthy, white calcium. 

Genetics play a role in how thick this layer of enamel is. Some people have strong, pearly teeth, while others are born with thinner enamel that can erode quickly. This also relates to how likely someone is to develop dental caries (tooth decay) and gum disease.

But there are various factors you can control that determine how quickly your enamel yellows and erodes.

The Natural and Not-So-Natural Sides of Yellow Teeth

The calcified layer of enamel on the outside of your teeth is actually mostly translucent. As the calcium wears away, the enamel thins, letting the layer of dentin (that brownish-yellow mineral that supports the enamel) become visible.

Since dentin tends to get darker as we age, yellow teeth are one of those “things” that come with age. If you’re getting regular dental cleanings and taking care of your teeth, you can delay this and keep them whiter for longer.

Your Diet and Staining Agents

However, your habits significantly influence the rate of yellowing. Certain substances are known as “staining agents.” They cause extrinsic surface stains that enhance the discoloration.

The good news is that these kinds of stains are usually responsive to dental whitening treatments.

Common surface stainers include:

  • Dark beverages, such as coffee, soda, red wines, and tea (yes, even green tea)
  • Fruit juice
  • Tomato-based sauces and soy sauce
  • Curry spices
  • Balsamic vinegar

If your diet and daily habits include anything on this list, you’re more likely to have yellow teeth. 

Staining from Tooth Decay

Even if your diet is impeccable, your oral hygiene affects the shade, too. If you’re skipping regular brushing, flossing, and cleanings, bacteria like tartar and plaque tend to build up on and between the enamel.

This buildup causes an infestation of germs that erode your enamel and get up under the gums. Over time, you get cavities and gum disease. 

Tobacco use is another habit that makes you more susceptible to tooth decay. Studies show untreated tooth decay occurs in over 40% of adults aged 20 to 64 who use tobacco. Those over 65 are more than twice as likely to have this condition as non-smokers.

A third, less common cause of tooth decay is medication or illness. Certain medicines (including tetracycline, doxycycline, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and antihypertensive drugs) affect the enamel and stain teeth from the inside. Some diseases that affect normal development can discolor enamel and dentin. Treatments like chemo and radiation often increase discoloration as well.

Decayed stains are less responsive to whiteners, so it’s crucial that you recognize what’s causing your tooth discoloration. 

What Kind of Teeth Whitening Products Are Available?

A quick search for the best teeth whitening products will yield tens of millions of results. Narrow down your options to the safest, most effective choices for you by getting to know the differences in each method.

Whitening Vs. Bleaching

Before digging in and discussing the popular whitening treatments on the market, we need to clarify two terms: teeth bleaching versus teeth whitening. 

They can be used interchangeably but don’t mean exactly the same thing.

Teeth whitening is any process that uses physical stain-removing agents or a chemical reaction to lighten the color of the actual tooth. 

Bleaching, on the other hand, uses a chemical ingredient to lighten the stains on the tooth. Most products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active chemicals for whitening and bleaching.

Professional or Over-the-Counter: Which Whitener is Right for You?

With both bleaching and whitening, the end goal is whiter teeth. If your stains are mild, you may benefit from a short treatment of over-the-counter whiteners.

How effective these are depends on:

  • How long the whitening agent is exposed to your teeth
  • The concentration of that agent
  • The quality of the product

If your stains are complex, intrinsic, or severe, your most effective path to a bright smile is to use professional, high-grade products like those offered by your dentist or sold by us at JS Dental Lab.

OTC Toothpaste, Strips, and Gel Kits

Ready to start shopping for your smile-changing whitener? You can find OTC products at your favorite grocery, drugstore, or online. 


Young woman blurry in background is squeezing a tube of toothpaste over a toothbrush in the foreground

Whitening toothpaste uses an abrasive to clean and polish the enamel. You’ll see ingredients like baking soda, silica, or activated charcoal. These rub off the surface stains but don’t change the color of your teeth.


Whitening strips are sold in kits. Each packet in the kit has an upper and lower strip. You pull the active strip off its backing and apply it to your teeth as directed. If you use them correctly, you’ll get whiter teeth, but they aren’t intended for long-term use or permanent results.

Gel Kits

Gel kits are the third whitening option. There are two parts to the kit: the mold that goes over your teeth and the gel you insert into the mold.

You can get these over-the-counter products at many stores. However, because the one-size-fits-all mold isn’t designed for your unique teeth, it’s not as effective. 

These kits are also the typical whitening treatments you’ll get from your dentist’s office or JS Dental Lab. They work quickly and hit all the hidden nooks and crannies of your natural teeth. 

At JS Dental Lab, we use a custom-made mold of your teeth combined with high-quality, professional-grade teeth whiteners to give you the best, longest-lasting results from your whitening solution. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home, and you avoid the expensive price tag that goes with an in-office treatment.

What Risks Are There With Teeth Whitening?

Let’s address the elephant in the room of teeth whitening products. You are, quite literally, putting peroxide and other chemicals in your mouth when you use whiteners. It’s something we’ve always been told not to do, yet, your whitening product may even have an ADA Seal of Acceptance label on it!

How is that possible?

Per the American Dental Association (ADA), bleaching agents such as carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide are safe and effective in certain concentrations, provided they’re only on the teeth for a limited time. 

But when you put any chemicals in your mouth, you take a risk. To ensure you’re being as safe as possible, avoid these unnecessary potential problems.

Not Following Directions

Not following the instructions on any whitening system is a major cause of teeth sensitivity and gum damage. Expert researchers design those directions before the product is released. They’re there to get you the best results safely.

Whitening agents open up the pores in your enamel to let the peroxide inside. This exposes the layer of dentin attached to your nerves.

Ignoring the application directions and leaving the product on too long could damage your enamel and gums. But not applying the whitening agent long enough reduces its effectiveness and, therefore, your results. 

Restorations, like veneers and bonding, aren’t affected by whitening agents. Yet, if you’re trying to force a whiter veneer, you could damage the surrounding teeth and tissue.

One more tip about following directions:

You may notice increased tooth sensitivity to hot or cold if you’re overusing your strips, gel, or toothpaste. Don’t keep going. Contact your dentist if the problem continues after you’ve stopped.

Wrong Size Trays

Whitening gel kits come with trays similar to a night guard. The gel is poured into the clear appliance, which then sits over your teeth. 

Custom-made professional whitening trays keep the active ingredients in contact with your teeth and away from sensitive soft tissue. But when the tray is too large, the chemicals sit on your gums and irritate them. 

If your gums are healthy, the irritation should go away shortly after use and with proper oral care. For those with active gum disease, the effects can range from irritation to long-term swelling and pain.

How Can You Safely Whiten Your Teeth With a Whitener?

The risks we discussed are valid but avoidable. As long as you follow the instructions and use reputable products, you should be able to get your teeth whiter safely.

Remember, recognizing where your stains are coming from is the key to choosing an effective whitener. Mild discoloration caused by occasional staining agents may be easily scrubbed off with toothpaste.

No matter which whitening product you use, always follow the instructions that come with it. 

For more stubborn stains, an at-home treatment with high-grade products and a custom tray, like those we offer at JS Dental Lab, is your safest and truest way to whiter teeth.

Are There Any Natural Ways to Whiten Your Teeth?

Whitening treatments are generally safe, but they’re not for everyone. Going the natural route to whiten teeth could help you reduce mild stains without any chemicals.

Oil Pulls

olive oil being poured into a clear ramekin, oil pulling may be beneficial for dental health

Oil pulling for whiter teeth involves removing cavity-causing bacteria. You’ll hold a small amount of olive or coconut oil in your mouth and swish it for 15-20 minutes. The swishing pulls the bacteria off of your teeth, from between the gaps, and away from the gums.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Foods

Certain nutrients encourage whiter teeth, too.

Your goal isn’t just fixing the color; you want healthier teeth that stay naturally white. These vitamins and minerals can help you reach that target:

  • Calcium: Found in dairy products, salmon, sardines, broccoli, kale, and almonds (or as a supplement)
  • Phosphorous: Helps your body absorb and process calcium to actually strengthen your teeth. Add it to your meal in milk, meat, whole grains, fish, and other protein-packed foods.
  • Vitamin C: A nutrient that strengthens your gums and the connective tissue holding your teeth in place. It’s found in citrus fruits, broccoli, berries, and sweet potatoes. (Side note: Be careful about eating too many berries because they’re also a staining agent!)
  • Vitamin D: Ideal for overall health. A deficiency in this vitamin is linked to cavities, gum disease, inflammation, and many other chronic conditions. If you don’t get outside to get yours naturally, you can consume vitamin D in oily fish, milk, breakfast cereals, or supplements.
  • Fluoride: Necessary for strong teeth. It doesn’t whiten your tooth enamel, but it will protect against decay.

Between oil pulling and eating healthy, you’ll notice a decrease in those surface stains over time. But if your discoloration is more stubborn, using the right whitening treatments is safe and effective, and now you know how to avoid the side effects!


Ready to go shopping for the perfect whitening treatment? Remember to follow the directions you get with your product. You’ll get better results, a brighter smile, and, more importantly, your teeth and gums will stay safe.

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