Published on December 10, 2018

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Photography by Victoria Will

If you’re vying for pearlier whites, you are not alone—and, it turns out, not unjustified. A 2012 study found that the whiter a person’s teeth, the more attractive they were seen and that it was a top quality when looking for a significant other. While that might sound insanely superficial, it’s perhaps a prehistoric setting hiding in our brains. Historically, the whiter the teeth, the healthier you were, as yellowing or darkened teeth can be attributed to illness and sickness.

It’s big business too. Cosmetic teeth whitening is a $3.2 billion global industry, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. By 2024, it’s expected to reach $7.40 billion. A lot of that drive of growth is expected to be from areas of the world that, up until recently, didn’t view teeth whitening as a priority in countries like France, the UK, India, China, and Germany. The majority of those billions of sales? Whitening toothpaste, but whitening strips are expected to grow in the coming years, mainly for their quick results.

That’s what we’re looking for when it comes to whitening—preferably minutes if we can, please and thank you. This sense of urgency is an omnipresent focus for most retail dental brands. You know about too much of a good thing though… it can make for some real dental and gum problems at home. We asked two of the buzziest dentists in the industry to give us their selects and advice for how to lighten up at home.

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Courtesy of Kopari

The DIY Version

Science is still a little undecided about the effectiveness of coconut oil pulling, but Grand Street Dental’s Dr. Jennifer Plotnick recommends it. “Coconut oil is nature’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral agent,” says Plotnick. “I love recommending this as an addendum to my patients routine, which can help keep the gums healthy and vibrant.”

She recommends using about a tablespoon in the morning before breakfast and swishing it gently through your teeth for as long as you can. “Literature says 20 minutes, which I know feels like a lifetime,” she says. What’s happening in that handful of minutes is the oil is adhering to bacteria on the tongue and crevices of the teeth, and when you spit—always in a lined wastebasket, never down the drain, as it will clog pipes—the bacteria goes into the trash as well.

Frequent users swear it can whiten teeth effectively and gently, without the harsh chemicals used in traditional products. Kopari Coconut Oil Pulling Set, $28, makes them in perfectly sized minis so you can use one a day. You can also simply scoop out a spoonful of good-quality coconut oil right from your pantry too.

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Courtesy of Colgate

The Popular Version

Since toothpaste is the most popular section of teeth whitening, let’s celebrate that fact with the dentist-approved option. “In the past, whitening toothpaste contained abrasive particles that were not recommended to be used on a regular basis,” says Dr. Plotnick. They’ve now started incorporating hydrogen peroxide for whitening, and one, in particular, gets her seal of approval: Colgate Optic White, $4.99. “Optic White uses hydrogen peroxide and it doesn’t harm the enamel, making it a great choice,” she says.

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Courtesy of Violet Grey

The Chic Option

Celebrity dentist, Dr. Michael Apa, DDS, knows just how coveted white teeth can be. His in-office treatments are incredibly effective, but he realized not everyone could be there in person to achieve those results, especially for his international clientele. Thus, he founded Apa Beauty, a line of dental-focused products that are gentle yet powerful. He says his Apa White Duo, $150, is the “closest thing to a professional treatment on the market—it takes a page from the in-office whitening book and offers a double dose of the highest concentration of OTC bleach allowed through the bleach applicator and bleach film strip.”

The simple, portable, two-step process involves a whitening pen for on-the-go usage, and the White Films do the additional heavy lifting and can make a dramatic difference after five days, but the full kit includes 10 films for long-lasting effects.

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Courtesy of Urban Outfitters

The Electronic Option

It was only a matter of time before at-home teeth whitening got high-tech, and thanks to GLO Teeth Whitening Device, $199, the moment has come. Hate messy whitening strips? This device uses warming heat and light, paired with hydrogen peroxide whitening gel to get you pain-free, quick, and long-lasting results in just a few days. The price sounds a bit outrageous, but the kit includes all the devices, 40 applications of gel, and a special hydrating lip treatment (treat your lips while you treat your teeth). Each light treatment only last eight minutes long too.

This is also the same type of technology most dentists use in their offices, like Dr. Plotnick, who has a collection of some of the most high-tech equipment in the biz. So if she has it in her office, you know it’s tried and true. Her version, by Philips Zoom, is much more intense, so you’ll get results in 30 minutes as opposed to days, but for the at-home device, you can reuse it every few weeks or months whenever you need a refresh.

The Professional Version

Nearly 64 percent of retail whitening products users say they saw a noticeable difference, but 83 percent of patients reported a noticeable change in whitening when they got a professional in-office treatment. “Professional-grade whitening systems can lift your smile up to five shades lighter without the conventional sensitivity that often comes along with other whitening systems,” says Dr. Plotnick. There is a significant price difference in going to an accredited dentist, of course, but if you want a safe, quick effect, the professional route is for you.

Best Practices

Hey, fun fact: Tooth-whitening products don’t need approval from the FDA because they are considered cosmetic, and currently they haven’t even listed a single ingredient as potentially unsafe. Make sure you’re careful and cautious before putting any product on your teeth. Be careful with those pearly whites.

Also, don’t overdo it—even if you’re in a rush for quick results—it won’t be worth it when your gums and teeth are inflamed and highly sensitive for days, or worse, weeks. “Best practices depend on the person and their eating/drinking habits, but the general rule of thumb is if there is sensitivity or inflamed gums, then you should take a break from whitening,” says Dr. Apa.  

Also, always regularly visit your dentist and schedule at least one cleaning a year to stay on top of any issues that may arise. “White teeth can give a false sense of ‘healthy teeth,’ so schedule a professional cleaning and make sure your teeth are genuinely healthy,” says Dr. Apa.