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Whitening Toothpaste 101: The Basics of Daily Whitening

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Even if you adhere to near-perfect dental hygiene, you can still end up with yellow teeth. Your age, the food you eat and your lifestyle habits can all contribute to stains and yellowed teeth that aren't exactly picture-perfect. Of course, thanks to the availability of whitening toothpaste, you don't necessarily have to see your dentist to restore your gleaming white smile. But before you pick up a toothpaste that promises to whiten your teeth, make sure you understand the hows and whys so you can pick out the right product.

How Does It Work?

While there are numerous options available on the shelves of pharmacies, not all whitening toothpastes are created equally. It's the active ingredients that make the real difference in how effectively the products whiten. Usually, toothpastes include one of three whitening ingredients:

  • Mild abrasives. According to the BBC Science Focus Magazine, mild abrasives like hydrated silica, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate or aluminium oxides are a type of ingredients that can be found in toothpastes. Abrasives can remove surface stains that could cause yellowing in order to reveal a whiter, brighter smile.
  • Hydrogen peroxide. A low-dose version of hydrogen peroxide has a known whitening effect on teeth and is the active ingredient in most whitening systems used in dental clinics. While the concentration in whitening toothpastes is less than the amount in single-use products, hydrogen peroxide can produce excellent results (and is safe to use) over a longer period. The Singapore Dental Association notes that bleaching materials, such as hydrogen peroxide, can cause mild to moderate tooth sensitivity, but with the help of proper techniques, there has been no record of long term side effects. 
  • Carbamide peroxide. Carbamide peroxide is essentially a whitening agent that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. The main benefit of carbamide peroxide is that, according to a study published in the September 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, carbamide peroxide produced results more quickly than hydrogen peroxide in the first 14 days of the study. However, the results between carbamide and hydrogen peroxide were comparable after 12 weeks of use.

Can I Use Whitening Products Daily?

As long as whitening products are indicated for daily use, you can use them on a daily basis. Some people might experience sensitivity when using products that contain hydrogen peroxide. You can ease sensitivity by alternating the whitening toothpaste with a regular or sensitive toothpaste each day.

How Long Does It Take to Whiten?

The length of time it takes for a product to whiten your teeth depends greatly on the ingredients and the purpose of the toothpaste. If, for example, you use a new toothpaste that contains hydrogen peroxide, you'll see results much more quickly than if you use a whitening toothpaste that contains only surface-stain removers.

Whitening your smile with daily brushing makes sense. You're brushing anyway, so you might as well whiten your teeth too. By understanding what makes these toothpastes tick, you will have better control over the ingredients you use and how soon you can get a perfect smile.