Do Whitening Strips Work? The Truth Revealed

Home whitening products have been around since the late 1980s. Promising a whiter and brighter smile, they quickly grew in popularity. Let's take a closer look at the world of whitening with whitening strips. These tiny, flexible strips promise a big punch in the at-home whitening game. Their convenient design makes them easy to use. But before you do, it’s crucial to understand how whitening strips work, their effectiveness, and just how safe they are. It’s essential to have all the information before making any dental care decisions. In this article, we will break down what you need to know about using these strips.

Do whitening strips work?

The quick answer is yes, whitening strips do work. Some people may even have dramatic results in a few days. However, results can vary greatly and depend on things like:

  • Active whitening agent used
  • Concentration of the active ingredients
  • Type of stains present
  • Condition of the teeth

Most whitening strips use hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth. Current studies suggest that most people using at-home teeth whitening can expect to lighten their teeth by at least two shades, while some may get up to five shades lighter. However, results are different for everyone and depend on the person’s unique circumstances. In some instances, professional whitening may be a more effective whitening option.

Are teeth whitening strips safe?

In most cases, whitening strips are considered safe when used as directed. Over-the-counter whitening products contain lower concentrations of whitening agents, which reduces the risk of adversely affecting the tooth enamel. Higher concentrations or overuse of whitening products may damage enamel. Therefore, you should always follow the whitening strip instructions.

Many whitening products, including whitening strips, cause temporary tooth sensitivity and gingival irritation. Almost half of all users report experiencing some hypersensitivity when whitening. A study comparing different concentrations of whitening suggests lower concentrations may result in less sensitivity while still whitening teeth. Therefore, if you have sensitive teeth or have ever experienced sensitivity with whitening, consult your dentist before choosing a whitening strip and consider using a lower-strength whitening product.

How do whitening strips work?

Whitening strips are thin, flexible plastic strips coated on one side with whitening gel. Although there are several different active ingredients commonly used in OTC whitening products, most whitening strips use a peroxide-based gel. The strips are applied directly to the surface of your teeth. The plastic strip holds the gel in place and prevents saliva from washing it away too quickly.

There are two basic types of stains that occur on teeth:

  • Intrinsic stains. These stains are usually localized inside the tooth. They can be in the enamel or deeper structures of the tooth, like the dentin. These stains most commonly occur during tooth development but can occur from trauma as well.
  • Extrinsic stains. These stains are usually present on the tooth surface, especially in rough or difficult-to-clean areas. They commonly occur from foods and drinks that absorb into the superficial layers of the tooth.

Treatment of intrinsic stains is usually more than at-home whitening products. If you are interested in lightening intrinsic stains, discuss options with your dental care team. However, extrinsic stains are easier to treat and typically respond well to home whitening products, like whitening strips. The gel on the strips interacts with the stains to lessen their appearance. Most whitening strips require daily application for 7–14 days for stain removal and to brighten the appearance of your teeth.

How to use whitening strips safely

While whitening strips may seem simple to use, here are some steps to follow to ensure whitening strip safety so you get the most benefits.

  1. Thoroughly research the product before you buy it. Previous users often review products and can provide helpful insight or report problems that manufacturers may not disclose.
  2. Thoroughly read the instructions before use. They should provide information about how long to wear the strips, when to repeat the application, and how many treatments you can safely perform.
  3. Brush and floss your teeth before applying whitening strips. Good oral hygiene helps remove food particles and bacteria, improving the whitening effectiveness. However, some manufacturers recommend waiting at least 30 minutes after brushing to apply their strips. Be sure to follow the directions.
  4. Open the strips. One strip is for the upper teeth, and one is for the lower. Also, make note of where the gel is. The gel side should directly touch the teeth.
  5. Place strips and wear them for the recommended time. Do not wear longer than recommended, as this can cause more hypersensitivity and increase the risk of tooth damage.
  6. Remove strips and rinse. Swishing water can help to remove any excess whitening gel left on the teeth. You can also choose to brush after removing the strips. However, this may increase gum irritation, so be sure to brush gently.

Certain brands of whitening strips may have additional recommended steps. It’s important to always read and follow the instructions precisely to maintain the effectiveness of whitening strips and to limit adverse reactions.

Pros and cons of whitening strips

As with any cosmetic procedure, you should weigh the advantages, disadvantages, and possible side effects of using whitening strips.

Other teeth whitening options


Whitening strips may be effective for many people. However, other whitening treatments are also available. It is important to explore all options before choosing the best fit for your needs. Here are other treatments to consider:

  • In-office whitening. This procedure is performed in a dental office using a high-concentration whitening gel. Complex cases may require several sessions to get optimal results. But teeth are usually visible lighter after each treatment. There is little risk of gingival irritation as the dentist will ensure your gums, lips, and cheeks are protected from the gel. However, higher concentrations of whitening gel do increase the risk of tooth hypersensitivity.
  • Whitening toothpaste. These are usually more abrasive than regular toothpaste, although some may contain a low level of peroxide or color-correcting technology. They gently scrub stains away. According to the American Dental Association, whitening toothpaste may be beneficial for light extrinsic stains but not deeper intrinsic stains or intrinsic tooth color. The results are often minor, with only one to two shades lighter.
  • Whitening rinses. These typically use a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide or other whitening agents. Results can take longer and may not be very noticeable in the beginning. Some manufacturers recommend using them for up to 12 weeks before results can be seen. These types of mouth rinses use a lower concentration, so there should be less added hypersensitivity.
  • Whitening gels. These clear, peroxide-based gels are usually applied with a small brush directly to the surface of your teeth. This can help reduce gingival hypersensitivity since the gel can be carefully applied to avoid contacting the gum tissue. Like whitening strips, initial results may be seen in a few days. These gels are typically used for 10–14 days and are a better option for whitening while in braces.

The ADA recommends consulting your dental provider before choosing a whitening product. Your dentist will make whitening recommendations based on your current oral health and help guide you on what to expect. Dental professionals understand the complexity of different whitening products or other practices that can help you whiten your smile. Your dentist can help you choose what best fits your unique needs. They can also make recommendations to help limit adverse effects like hypersensitivity. So don’t make the choice alone.

There are many options available if you want to whiten your teeth. In fact, there is information everywhere with claims to dramatically whiten your smile. Whitening strips have been around for a long time. They are convenient and relatively easy to use. But as with any cosmetic treatment, they can have some risks and may not be suitable for everyone. It's important to understand the risks, benefits, and limitations associated with whitening strips before diving in. So, be sure to fully understand the process of using whitening strips.

Talk to your dental provider to make sure whitening strips are the best choice for maintaining white teeth. There may be a better option for you to get that bright, white smile you are dreaming of.


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