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You may not wake up every day dreaming of whiter teeth, but if someone told you a simple product can whiten your teeth without too much effort, you would probably be at least slightly intrigued. After coming across claims that hydrogen peroxide can be a useful product for teeth whitening, we were definitely interested in learning more.
Does hydrogen peroxide really whiten teeth? And if so, is it safe? To find out, we got in touch with the experts who know best: dentists. Keep reading to hear them weigh in everything you need to know about using hydrogen peroxide to whiten your teeth.
Meet the Expert
- Lilya Horowitz, DDS, dentist and owner of Domino Dental in Brooklyn, New York
- Sharon Huang, DDS, dentist and owner of Les Belles NYC in Manhattan, New York
What is Hydrogen Peroxide?
Hydrogen peroxide is a mild liquid antiseptic that's often used for medicinal purposes, like preventing infections and treating minor cuts and wounds. (If you are wondering, yes, this is the product in the brown bottle found in most homes.) Hydrogen peroxide is also one of the most common ingredients used to whiten teeth and can be found in many whitening and oral care products, like mouth wash, toothpaste, and at-home whitening kits.
The reason hydrogen peroxide is used in many teeth whitening products is because it breaks down into smaller molecules, specifically water and oxygen, which release free radicals that can lift stains from your teeth and make your teeth appear whiter, Huang explains.
Is Hydrogen Peroxide Safe for Teeth?
Dentists say hydrogen peroxide can be safe when used for teeth whitening, but only when it's used correctly. "Using hydrogen peroxide in low concentrations and in limited doses is safe for teeth," Huang tells us. "The best and safest way to use hydrogen peroxide is to choose oral care products that use hydrogen peroxide as a key ingredient to lift stains."
You may be wondering: but what exactly is the right dose and best way to use hydrogen peroxide on your teeth? The first thing to understand is that you need to pay attention to the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in the product you buy. For an at-home whitening treatment, you'll want to look for a hydrogen peroxide concentration of 10% or less, Horowitz says. But a concentration up to 38% hydrogen peroxide can be safe if you're having the treatment done at your dentist's office, she adds.
Another point to keep in mind is that using hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening isn't safe for everyone. People with certain dental conditions, like thin enamel, should probably stay away from using hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening. Or, at the very least, make sure to check with a dentist before doing so. "If you have thin or worn down enamel, dental restorations that are failing or leaking, cavities, or inflamed gums, whitening is not recommended," Horowitz says.
You can find hydrogen peroxide nearly anywhere. One major benefit to using hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening is that it's not hard to get your hands on. "It’s easy to go to a drugstore and choose a toothpaste with hydrogen peroxide," Huang says. "It can also be quite effective at removing superficial staining, which can have a dramatic effect on the shade of your teeth."
It can be fairly gentle on your teeth. As long as you use a product that contains a safe concentration of hydrogen peroxide and check in with your dentist first, this method of teeth whitening can be gentle, non-abrasive, and won't damage your enamel, Horowitz tells us. Some over-the-counter whitening pastes and products scrub away stains using abrasives, and these can damage enamel make your teeth more sensitive.
How to Use It
- Buy an at-home whitening kit. Your easiest option is to purchase an at-home tooth whitening product that includes hydrogen peroxide as a leading ingredient. You can find many of these sold over-the-counter. Here are two options Huang recommends BURST coconut whitening strips (which contain six percent hydrogen peroxide and can be used as a 15-minute, at-home treatment) and Spotlight Oral Care Teeth Whitening Strips (a treatment that hydrogen peroxide as an active ingredient and requires one hour of your time).
- Make a hydrogen peroxide rinse. Looking for a project? Maybe it's time to get DIY and make your own hydrogen peroxide rinse that you can use once or twice a week at home. Here's what you'll want to do, with advice from Dr. Huang:
- Mix equal parts water and 3% hydrogen peroxide. Maybe start with around a quarter cup of each, or more depending how much you want to make.
- Swish the rinse around your mouth for somewhere between 30 seconds and one minute.
- Spit out the mixture. Please, do NOT swallow the hydrogen peroxide rinse!
- If you feel any burning or pain while rinsing, spit out the mixture right away and immediately rinse your mouth with water.
- See a dentist for a professional whitening. For the best results, teeth whitening needs to happen within a professional dental setting, experts say. "The best teeth whitening results are always going to be from seeing a dentist," Huang says. "There are so many whitening products on the market but not all products are created equal."
Many over-the-counter treatments don't provide results that are noticeable or long-lasting. "Its the equivalent of doing a 24-hour juice cleanse and expecting a dramatic change in your appearance," she says. Instead, dentists can offer personalized recommendations and treatments that are a good fit for you specifically. Many dentists even offer combination treatments where you are treated in the dentists office and also take home teeth whitening trays to use at home.
Hydrogen Peroxide Alternatives
Craving whiter teeth but not into the idea of hydrogen peroxide? Here are some options:
- See a dentist. You'll find the safest and most effective teeth whitening products and treatments by seeing your dentist.
- Use a straw. Try using a straw when drinking coffee, tea, and other dark beverages. This can help prevent stains from forming.
- Try a product with a different active. You can find many whitening products sold over-the-counter at your local pharmacy. If you have sensitive teeth, Huang recommends the whitening strips by Lumineux Oral Essentials. Check out this recent Byrdie story for more dentist-approved recommendations.
Hydrogen peroxide can be helpful for whitening teeth, but it's important to use it safely. Make sure the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is not too high, and definitely check in with your dentist before trying anything at home—many at-home whitening products are abrasive and can damage your enamel, dentists say.
Cleveland Clinic. What is Hydrogen Peroxide Good For?
Carey CM. Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know. The Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice. 2014;14 Suppl:70.