Whitening Toothpastes

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Patients often ask, “Do whitening toothpastes actually work?” While not as dramatically as other whitening techniques, they do help improve the brightness of your teeth. There are various products available and they work in different ways.

Patients whose teeth have a brown, grey, or bluish hue are most resistant to bleaching, while those whose teeth are yellow will get the better results. Stains that are extrinsic or on the tooth surface are removed with toothpastes that have abrasive ingredients. Most of the “whitening” toothpastes fall in this category. They act by mechanically removing surface stains and not literally whitening the teeth . Intrinsic stains that are deeper in the enamel of the tooth require peroxide to be effective. Peroxide is the active ingredient in whitening strips, gels that are used in bleaching trays, and in dental office bleaching procedures.

Consumer Reports tested many of the toothpastes on the market and found the most effective and least expensive brand was Ultrabright. Ultrabright is one of the original whitening toothpastes on the market. It costs about 28 cents per ounce. It was popular in the 1970's and is made by Colgate-Palmolive . It was the only product that rated in the “excellent” category for stain removal. Other Colgate products rated very well, although more expensive than Ultrabright, they were categorized as “very good” stain removers. Crest ranked lower than Colgate in the very good category. All of the other brands were in the “good” category. The best of these brands were Listerine, Rembrandt and Aquafresh.

A new Colgate toothpaste that was not included in the Consumer Reports study is Colgate Optic White. It claims to be superior to other pastes in that it uses a “unique technology with hydrogen peroxide” that provides results in just one week and best results in four. I have received some positive feedback on the product from some of my patients.

There is another product that is available online called Supersmile. It was created by a dentist who was concerned that whitening toothpastes are too abrasive. This product costs about $25.00 for a 1.75 oz. of toothpaste and 1.2 oz. of accelerator. Calprox is the active ingredient. It gently lifts surface stain like tobacco, coffee and wine by dissolving the protein pellicle layer that allows the stains to attach to the tooth. I have no personal experience with this product; however, the reviews online were mostly very positive.

It is important to keep in mind that the best whitening results are attained in the dental office. All patients are different and some will get noticeable results with these toothpastes. Most of the time the best use of these products is for maintenance – to ensure that other bleaching efforts last or to prevent the gradual darkening of teeth that often occurs as we age. Since bleaching agents often cause sensitivity to cold and sweets, its important to find a product with a sensitive formula. Lastly, make sure the toothpaste has the ADA seal of approval and fluoride to strengthen the enamel.

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