Illustrated by Jihyang Lim


A Beginner’s Guide To Teeth Whitening Products

How to get the pearliest whites

by Tamim Alnuweiri

Has Instagram ever suggested to you a really bizarre category on your explore page? Cake decorating, maybe, or people painting model ships? Or, like, toothpaste? Maybe the last one is all me, but it’s how I realized I was very behind on my toothpaste game. Over the course of two hours, I went from thinking of Colgate as the pinnacle of orthodontic science to wondering if I too should be rubbing fireplace ashes into my gums. After some quick research (reading the entire caption), I learned it’s not soot that’s everyone’s favorite miracle tooth whitening product; it's actually activated charcoal. And then, as I got even deeper in the underbelly of Instagram’s dental community, I learned that charcoal is not the only trendy whitener in town; now there’s a purple toothpaste, a light-emitting mouth guard, and blue lip gloss that have been all the rage in the past few years. And each of these products serves the same, covetable purpose: to make your teeth whiter.

Considering I drink an inordinate amount of coffee to support my habitual nightly Golden Girls marathons, teeth whitening is something I’ve been putting off for a while. It always seemed so tedious and difficult. If you have already sensitive teeth like I do, run-of-the-mill whitening strips aren’t really a viable option unless you're into feeling like your teeth are rapidly disintegrating into chalk dust. So I was wary about these products, but in the name of both science and self-improvement, I set out to test and learn more about the newest offerings on the teeth whitening market.

First up was POPWHITE. The company started after a close look at the beauty market revealed that color-correcting products were missing from the oral hygiene market. In the same way we use green primers to fix the redness in our skin, POPWHITE’s Power of Purple toothpaste and mouthwash duo (or primer and toner as they refer to them) use the lilac hue to counteract the yellowness in the teeth. In my research, I also found that it’s also the easiest product to commit to in the long run. Since it’s a product you’re already using every day (toothpaste), you can swap it into your routine instead of adding another step to it. Their formula relies on coconut oil, instead of bleach, too. At the very least, it’s a good novelty toothpaste, but at most, it will also whiten your teeth. While subtle, I definitely felt an increasingly more noticeable difference the longer I used POPWHITE; plus, it’s got a great minty flavor and makes my teeth feel the cleanest post-brushing they’ve ever felt. 

Sister & Co’s Raw Coconut and Activated Charcoal Polish is the next easiest to use since it functions like a toothpaste. However, the whole idea of rubbing black charcoal into my teeth scared the shit out of me, so I decided to consult a medical professional before proceeding. I asked Dr. Michael Mohr, a dentist at Hulbrock, Maitland and Mohr, his opinion on the charcoal toothpaste; he had both good and bad news. The good news is that “products made of coconut oil and charcoal may assist in whitening. In theory, these ingredients can absorb bacteria, toxins, and some of the things that cause staining.” But while these ingredients might work, Dr. Mohr advises exercising caution, “I would be concerned about enamel deterioration or erosion; enamel once eroded will not heal itself.” In other words: beware.

Apa Beauty has another easy daily product that doesn’t exactly whiten teeth but instead uses color technology to make your teeth appear whiter. The Apa Blue Lip Shine is a blue-tinted lip gloss (it’s basically clear, with just the slightest blue hue) that can be applied alone or on top of your lip product. The blue crystals in the formula reflect light and make your teeth look whiter while not actually doing anything to them. Apa Beauty also has a product called the APA White Duo which feels like the sophisticated older sibling of the Crest White Strips that used to gather dust on the shelf under my sink. The duo is comprised of the White Pen and the White Films; the former is the actual treatment, while the latter serves as protective films. Medically, it’s a safe and effective product according to Dr. Mohr, who explained that the APA White Duo “has the ingredients to help whiten your teeth. The bleaching agent in this product is carbamide peroxide which breaks down to produce hydrogen peroxide the actual bleaching agent.”

If you like the idea of a more serious intense whitening product with more immediate results Glo Science, which offers a medical grade whitening device—the Personal Teeth Whitening Device—used by many dentists, including Dr. Mohr. The device involves a mouthguard that lights up with neon blue light and is hooked to a contraption that looks like an iPod Video. Fun factor aside, I did see changes after the first use and suffered no sensitivity, although Dr. Mohr said that although “patients report less sensitivity over other products, some patients still do report sensitivity.” Here's how it works: You start by putting on lip care and then applying the whitening gel to your teeth before popping in the mouth guard. One session is four rounds of eight-minute intervals, which you may recognize as almost exactly one Golden Girls episode. 

Regardless of what route you choose to pursue, or even if you choose one at all, Dr. Mohr has some wise words and general dental advice: “Bleaching is very patient-specific. One product may work wonders on one person, and not have an effect on another. You either have to try them out to see if you get the desired results, or go to a dentist. Results can vary considerably because of age, oral hygiene, concentration of the bleaching ingredients, treatment time, and frequency.” In terms of safety and health concerns, Dr. Mohr explained that while “there have been a couple of studies that have shown enamel damage from over the counter whitening products, this could be from overusing the product, or possibly the acidity level… As for long-term tooth nerve health, there have been no studies I am aware of indicating bleaching has negative effects when used properly.” So as with most cosmetic decisions, err on the side of caution and do whatever feels right, but have fun and enjoy those pearly whites.