The 10 Best Teeth Whiteners
10. DentaPro2000 3D Professional Strips
9. Gold Mountain Beauty Tuxedo
8. Philips Zoom Nite White
7. Crest 3D White Luxe
6. The Dirt
5. Miswak Club
4. FineVine Organics Powder
3. AuraGlow Accelerator Light
2. Hardwood Charcoal Powder
1. Dental Duty Strips
The Penetrating Power Of Peroxide
At this point in the history of in-home tooth whitening, it's generally accepted that the methods work. How exactly they work is much more the mystery. It's one of those things that gets results, so maybe we don't really want to know how it works. Like the internet.
Most teeth whitening products rely on either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as a bleaching agent. What's the difference between the two? Well, not much.
Hydrogen peroxide is pretty unstable, and it degrades very quickly when exposed to light. That's why it's sold in those opaque brown bottles. Carbamide peroxide is just a little bit more stable, and during application it breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and urea, a natural organic compound produced by the kidneys.
The point is to get at the hydrogen peroxide, the oxygen in which penetrates the enamel of your teeth and attacks subsurface stains on the next level of the tooth, called the dentin. Down there is where the real discoloration culprits hide. Toothpastes and mouth washes can only get at surface stains with a variety of chemical reactions, but the intrinsic stains, like pirates hidden in the New Jersey Meadowlands, need to be flushed out by specific means.
This science has led some people to believe that they can just swish with hydrogen peroxide and whiten their teeth that way. Unfortunately for the H2O2 business, that's not quite how it works. It takes about 30 minutes for hydrogen peroxide at its most common 3 percent dilution to get whitening results. That's why we leave it on our teeth in gel form, to give it time to work.
Some strips and trays offer faster wear times, some longer. It all depends on the chemical material and the dilution (remember that carbamide peroxide takes longer to break down, so those products have longer wear times). A 10 percent H2O2 gel is more than three times the potency of regular hydrogen peroxide, so those products average closer to 15 minute wear times.
If all this chemistry turns your stomach (you will inevitably ingest some of this stuff, after all), there's always a few natural alternatives on our list, most notably the miswak sticks and charcoal powders.
How White Can You Go?
There seems to be no shortage of whitening products available over the counter these days. Figuring out which one of these products is going to fit your mouth the best can be a matter of trial and error, but we endeavor to give you a leg up in the process.
The most important question: How sensitive are your teeth? Are you in agony at the dentist's office? Do you only chew on one side of your mouth because the other one hurts? Are you prone to get, or do you currently have cavities?
If any of these questions sound like they apply to you, you'll want to talk to your dentist before working with any of the peroxide-based products like the trays or strips we've reviewed. Grab that miswak stick first, since that's a painless, all-natural alternative, and see how that treats you. You may find that it's all you'll ever need to get your best smile.
If you have adamantium teeth, or perhaps if you just don't feel pain, you can use anything we've talked about today. For you, you might want to investigate your lifestyle. Will wearing strips overnight be an issue? How quickly do you want these strips to be effective?
The strips at number four don't require a big calendar investment, but you do need to have them in overnight for the best results. Maybe the 20 minute crest strips that you use for two weeks or the trays that you use for 30 minutes over ten days fit your lifestyle best.
On the bright side, all the products work, and they work well. Just find the one that fits your schedule and you'll have teeth like Moby Dick in no time.
The Smile Through Time
Some evolutionary biologist and neurologists, notably V.S. Ramachandran, have argued that the human smile evolved from a kind of aborted snarl, a growl and a baring of the teeth that faded partly as the approaching animal proved itself not to be a threat. Evolutionary, then, it says that you aren't gauging a stranger or loved one as a problem, and that everything is copacetic.
Other studies have shown that a clean, white, evenly-spaced smile has taken on a kind of peacock function, alerting potential mates to the quality of the genes in the smiler.
But some cultures have seen the smile used in very different ways, most famously, perhaps, in Japan and southeast Asia. From at least the 6th century B.C.E. all the way through to Meiji Era Japan (1860s), the process of Ohaguro, or of dyeing ones teeth black with charcoal was a mark of status.
It can be seen in many of the samurai films of the middle 20th century, and in addition to conveying status, the charcoal acted as a kind of dental sealant, helping to prevent tooth decay.
That may seem pretty crazy to us today, with our incredible emphasis on white, vibrant smiles, but I wonder what a geisha would have thought of our quest for whiteness. Dental technology is getting more effective and less expensive, though, so there's no reason not to whiten.