Although many dentists offer professional teeth whitening services, it's often cheaper to whiten teeth at home, and as a result, do-it-yourself teeth whitening kits continue to gain popularity. In fact, the most widely used home remedy for fixing stained or discolored teeth are whitening strips. You can get these strips without a prescription from a dentist, or from your local pharmacy, and can easily apply them at home to restore your teeth to their original color and shine.

How do whitening strips work?

Teeth whitening strips contain peroxide or bleach. Thus, they work to whiten your teeth the same way bleach works to whiten your clothes or your hair. The peroxide bleaches color from your teeth in order to restore their natural, white color.1

Most whitening strips are made out of polyethylene, which is a thin, elastic type of plastic. The plastic is coated with peroxide, and certain types of strips contain more than others. You apply the strips to your teeth according to the package directions so that the peroxide comes into contact with your tooth enamel. This allows the peroxide to remove stains and discoloration from the surface of your teeth. Some strips need to be removed after a certain period of time, while others do not.2

Benefits of teeth whitening strips

The primary benefit of using teeth whitening strips is that they are less expensive than other teeth whitening treatments. Most at-home whitening tools are more affordable than going to the dentist to get your teeth whitened. Strips tend to be inexpensive because they are made out of materials that don’t cost very much; plastic and peroxide are both relatively cheap materials to manufacture.3

In addition to the low cost, whitening strips are easy to use. Most kits come with 2 sets of strips. One set is for your upper teeth and the other set is for your lower teeth. The kit also comes with instructions on how long to leave the strips on your teeth. Usually you have to put them on twice a day for an average of 2 weeks.

Finally, whitening strips deliver quick results. Your teeth should begin to look whiter within a few days of using the strips and the results should last at least 4 months.

Should I use teeth whitening strips before or after brushing?

Always brush your teeth before you use whitening strips, otherwise plaque and bacteria will be trapped between the strip and your teeth. This makes it more likely that you will experience tooth decay or other dental problems. In addition, if there’s dental plaque or bacteria on the teeth, it’s more difficult for whitening strips to do their job.4

However, you should not brush your teeth immediately before you apply whitening strips as they can sometimes irritate your gums. Instead, wait at least half an hour after brushing your teeth to apply whitening strips.5

If you see spots or excess gel on your teeth after removing the whitening strips, you can brush immediately after removing the strips. Doing so won’t harm your teeth. Of course, you should continue brushing twice a day while routinely using whitening strips so that your teeth will remain healthy and won’t become discolored again.

Are whitening strips safe to use?

The majority of whitening strips are safe to use; however, if you use whitening strips that contain chlorine dioxide, you could destroy the enamel on your teeth. Chlorine dioxide is the same acid used to disinfect swimming pools. It whitens teeth by eating away the surface of the enamel. Essentially, you are wearing down the enamel on your teeth and increasing your risk for tooth decay if you use this type of whitening strip.6

Even if your whitening strips don’t contain chlorine dioxide, it’s important to follow the directions on the package. Don’t get impatient and apply more whitening strips or use them for a longer period of time than is recommended. Doing so could be harmful to tooth enamel. Products that dissolve enamel can also harm gum tissue, so if your gums are irritated after using a product for a few days, you may want to discontinue use and see your dentist.

Should I get teeth whitening strips?

If your teeth are noticeably discolored, such as from drinking coffee, tea or red wine, or simply because you are older, then you may be able to improve your smile with teeth whitening strips.

While a professional teeth whitening treatment will likely be more effective overall, there are a few reasons why you might use teeth whitening strips instead. For starters, they’re more convenient. You can apply the strips at your convenience instead of scheduling an appointment. Teeth whitening strips are also cheaper than many professional teeth whitening treatments. If your teeth are only slightly discolored, it may not be worth paying for a full professional whitening treatment.

How to maintain white teeth

Whether you’ve had your teeth whitened or if you’re lucky enough to have natural bright white teeth, there are steps you can take to avoid future tooth discoloration7:

  • Take care of your teeth: Brush twice a day and floss once a day. In addition to helping your overall oral health, this will help prevent bacteria and plaque buildup, which can lead to tooth discoloration.
  • Avoid tobacco: In addition to increasing your risk of cancer and gum disease, smoking tobacco can significantly discolor your teeth. Avoiding or quitting smoking can make a big difference in the color of your teeth.
  • Rinse after drinking staining liquids: Dark liquids, such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate or red wine can contribute to tooth discoloration. Try gently rinsing your mouth with water in between sips of these drinks.
  • Have your teeth cleaned regularly: You should have your teeth professionally cleaned twice a year. The dentist or dental hygienist will scrape away tartar and polish your teeth, which helps fight discoloration.

Humana has dental plans that help pay for teeth whitening

If you’re interested in professional teeth whitening, we have plans in certain states that offer a $100/year allowance for in-office treatments. To see plans and prices in your area, check out our Humana Insurance Company dental insurance page.

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Sources

  1. “The Truth about Teeth Whiteners,” BU Today, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.bu.edu/articles/2012/the-truth-about-teeth-whiteners.
  2. “Vital Bleaching with a Thin Peroxide Gel: The Safety and Efficacy of a Professional-Strength Hydrogen Peroxide Whitening Strip,” The Journal of the American Dental Association 135, no 1 (January 2004): 98–100, accessed September 27, 2021, https://doi.org/10.14219/jada.archive.2004.0028.
  3. “The Truth about Teeth Whiteners.”
  4. “Should You Brush Your Teeth After Using Whitening Strips?” Healthline, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/do-you-brush-your-teeth-after-whitening-strips.
  5. “Should You Brush Your Teeth After Using Whitening Strips?”
  6. "Best Teeth Whitening Strips and Toothpastes,” Healthline, last accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/best-teeth-whitening.
  7. “How To Maintain White Teeth,” Colgate, last accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/teeth-whitening/how-to-maintain-white-teeth.