Hygienist Explains; Do Teeth Whitening Pens Actually Work?


The next teeth whitening gimmick seems to be everywhere and teeth whitening pens are included! Everywhere we go, bright pearly whites are right in front of our faces making us want that white smile. 

Teeth whitening pens can work, but not well. The percentage of the active ingredient is very low, taking longer to see results. Teeth whitening dehydrates the tooth, leaving it vulnerable to absorbing pigments from food and drink. 

I get so many questions about teeth whitening from my patients, and most of them want to know what actually works and what doesn’t. They don’t want to waste their hard-earned money on something that could be potentially harmful or doesn’t work. 

People are looking for the cheapest, and fastest way to get there, and it can be easy to fall for smart advertising and a good deal. And teeth whitening pens fall into this category. 

Do they actually work and worth all the hype? 

Keep reading to get all the answers regarding teeth whitening pens! 

What are teeth whitening pens?

Teeth whitening pens are an at-home treatment that can be done on the go, while you sleep, and during your everyday life activities.

They promise a quick and easy way to whiten your teeth without dishing out the money for a professional whitening treatment.

The whitening pens look exactly how they are named, like a pen. The whitening solution is inside the plastic tube and usually dispensed by twisting the bottom to push up the whitening solution (similar to the average deodorant stick). The solution will come out of a brush or piece of foam at the tip, which is used to apply the whitening solution to your teeth. 

How do teeth whitening pens work?

Most of these whitening pens work by extruding some of the whitening solution out of the tip of the pen, brush the solution onto your teeth, allow it to dry for a certain amount of time, then go on with the rest of your day. 

When the whitening solution is applied to the tooth surface, the active ingredients start to dehydrate the tooth, which allows the tooth to absorb the whitening solution which will begin to “bleach” the tooth to make it more white. 

No bleach is actually used in the whitening process, this word is just used to describe the whitening of the teeth. 

Ingredients

There are 2 ingredients that are used to whiten teeth and either one can be present in the teeth whitening pens. They are carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Both of these ingredients are equally as effectiveOpens in a new tab. in whitening teeth.

Some whitening pens will claim to whiten but use ingredients that will not actually whiten your teeth, so beware of the ingredients when purchasing a whiting pen. 

Carbamide peroxide contains hydrogen peroxide at a ratio of 1:3 so let’s say you have a 30% carbamide peroxide solution, that solution would contain 10% hydrogen peroxide.

So make sure to read the label to see which ingredient is in the product. 

Some people may be more inclined to buy the 30% carbamide peroxide vs the 10% hydrogen peroxide because they think it will be stronger and more effective but they will perform the same. 

Types of tooth stains

Teeth whitening pens work to whiten the actual tooth, not the stain that is on the outside of the teeth.

The stain that is on the surface of the tooth is called extrinsic stain and the stain that is inside the tooth is called intrinsic stain. 

Extrinsic stain can be removed with routine dental cleanings, whereas intrinsic cannot. 

Before and after a professional dental cleaning

The plaque and calculus (tartar) on our teeth can also absorb pigments and can be mistaken for stained teeth when in reality they just need a cleaning to remove the deposits and reveal their white teeth underneath.

Whitening products or whitening toothpaste will NOT work for the calculus (tartar) on the teeth. 

This is why it is so important to have routine dental cleanings and exams because your dental professional will explain what method of teeth whitening is best for you or if there are underlying issues that need to be assessed prior to you whitening your teeth. 

Why is teeth whitening so popular?

With magazines, movie stars and dental advertisements, we are constantly bombarded with the image of perfection. And the idealogy that the whiter and brighter your smile the better. 

But we cannot overlook a healthy mouth, and often with these viral teeth whitening solutions, our health and safety can be overlooked. 

The thing is, these companies have marketing genius’ and can advertise in such a way that we believe what they are telling us, even the big brands can use questionable wording that only a dental professional can see through to not being 100% accurate. 

Misconceptions

Often we look at all whitening products as equal and we think that whitening pens can get us the same results as if we were to have professionals in-office whitening. It can also be confused with the different types of stain and build upon the teeth as I previously mentioned in this post. 

There is a misconception that using light during whitening treatment makes it more effective or “activates” the whitening solutions.

You can read in this studyOpens in a new tab. about how the light does not increase the whitening and doesn’t prevent tooth sensitivity. 

Also, people who have veneers, crowns, fillings or any other restoration in the mouth need to know that they will no whiten.

But not only will they not whiten, but studiesOpens in a new tab. have also shown that aggressive whitening can actually make these restorations less stable, making them not last as long. 

As well, if you have root exposure, you should not be applying the whitening solution to this area as it can cause extreme sensitivity, but also softening of the root surface.

People can get confused and think their teeth are more yellow on the area closest to the gum, but it could just be the root that is exposed.

The root is made out of a different substance (cementum/dentin) which is more yellow/grey in colour than the crown of the tooth (enamel) which is more white in colour. 

Dangers of teeth whitening and pens

Some whitening pens are manufactured by well-known professional dental companies, and if you are interested in using a teeth whitening pen I would buy from a reputable company. 

These well-known companies like Sonicare (Zoom) have extremely high standards and lots of research and testing to back up their products. 

Please do not buy generic or lesser-known company’s products. The ingredients may not be up to safety standards, there is no long term research on the effects of tooth whitening, and what it does to the tooth surface. Not to mention the soft tissues of the mouth. 

Whitening the enamel has been shown to cause changes in the microstructureOpens in a new tab.. My advice to people who want to whiten their teeth is first and foremost how to prevent staining in the first place.

Read Now: Dental Hygienist’s Guide to White TeethOpens in a new tab.

Then I do explain to them that whitening hasn’t been around long enough to really know the long term effects it has on the teeth and that you want to do it as little as possible. 

When you use a whitening pen, the whitening gel isn’t contained and can come in contact with your inner lips and cheeks and your gum tissue. This contact can cause “burns” of the tissue, irritating it. 

You may get some white patches where the gel has come in contact with the tissue, this will go away, but also something you want to avoid. 

Should you use one?

You should always consult with your dental professional before trying a whitening product.

Before any treatment or procedure on your mouth, your medical history should be reviewed and your mouth should be assessed for any cavities or oral disease. 

Problems with teeth whitening include the burning of the gingiva and other soft tissues of the mouth, demineralization of the tooth surface, and increased sensitivity. 

Read Now: Dental Hygienist’s Teeth Whitening ResourcesOpens in a new tab.

There is advice that you should receive before, during and after, keep reading as I go over that in the next section of this post. 

What’s the best way to whiten teeth?

You want to whiten your teeth as quickly as possible. 

Prior to whitening your teeth you want to be using a sensitive toothpaste with potassium nitrate for at least 2 weeks. The best toothpaste for this is Sensodyne Original ToothpasteOpens in a new tab.

Opens in a new tab.

Make sure to read the instructions at the end of this post because using the toothpaste properly can make a huge difference in preventing sensitivity from whitening. 

When you whiten your teeth, the teeth get dehydrated because the active ingredient pulls out the moisture in your teeth to allow for the active ingredient to be absorbed and do its thing. 

When the tooth gets dehydrated, it leaves it vulnerable to everything you eat/drink that has pigment.

The teeth act as a sponge, soaking that pigment up, which can cause deeper stains in your teeth and even slower results.

You will want to stay away from food and drink that has any sort of pigment (try as much as you can). Even foods such as spinach and dark chocolate fall into the list of foods to avoid. 

The whitening pens game plan is long and slow. The concentration of the active ingredient is very low.

When you use a whitening pen, you are constantly putting your teeth in that dehydrated state, so if you regularly consume things with pigment, your results will not be as good as they could have been. 

These items are my must-haves for at-home whitening!

  • Sensodyne Original ToothpasteOpens in a new tab.: This is the toothpaste you NEED if you are going to be whitening your teeth. Sensodyne original has potassium nitrate in it to desensitize the nerve of the tooth, so your teeth don’t get as sensitive when you begin the whitening process. To get the most benefit from this toothpaste you will want to floss first, then brush your teeth with a pea-sized amount of the toothpaste, brush for 2 minutes, then when you’re done, do NOT rinse your mouth out. Rinsing your mouth out will wash away most of the potassium nitrate that is on the teeth, and cause it to be much less effective. Avoid anything by mouth for at least 30 minutes including water, juice, and all food. 
  • Luxe Crest WhitestripsOpens in a new tab.: These Whitestrips are a higher concentration of the active ingredient, and will give you faster results. Out of all the Whitestrips on the market, these are by far my favourite ones. 

Have a great day!

Holly 🙂 

Holly Verran RDH

I am a Registered Dental Hygienist in Ontario, Canada. I hold registration and good standing with both the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association.

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