Even those with good oral hygiene are looking for a brighter, whiter, more brilliant smile. After all, so many of your favorite daily treats (coffee, tea, red wine, even things like berries) can leave teeth with that unwanted, yellowish tint. And while you could pick up some at-home whitening devices or see your dentist for a professional bleaching, whitening toothpastes offer an easier, more cost-effective way to brighten your smile.
If you take a stroll through the toothpaste aisle, you’ll be met with hundreds of choices — do I want baking soda or charcoal (spoiler: no to the charcoal), enamel protection or gum sensitivity? And how do I choose which one is right for my teeth? We had all the same q’s, so to get the a’s we put the top-sellers to the test, 24 of them to be exact. Our testers noted the color of their teeth before the testing period, using the VITA Bleachedguide 3D-MASTER, then they each brushed with their assigned toothpaste twice a day for four weeks. At the end of the month, they compared to the color guide to note any improvement. Testers rated the toothpaste on a scale of five on taste, effectiveness, and sensitivity/comfort. These eight received the highest ratings for whitening toothpastes.
Burt’s Bees Deep Clean Whitening with Fluoride Toothpaste
Why We Like It: This toothpaste whitened by three shades.
It’s Worth Noting: It has a slight aftertaste.
When you hear Burt’s Bees, you think beeswax lip balm, right? After this, you’ll think of toothpaste. The Deep Clean + Whitening Toothpaste with Fluoride rated highest in our tests, getting a perfect five in the categories of effectiveness and comfort. It also made the biggest improvement in the shade of our teeth — taking a seven on the Vita scale to a four, the biggest improvement of the ones we tried — and this came from a coffee guzzling editor. While patience is a virtue with any whitening regimen, this pick will show you glimpses of the effectiveness from day one. We saw an overall brightening effect after the first few uses and a noticeable difference in surface stains by the one month mark of the test. There are a few different options for removing stains. Think of it like skin care exfoliation: There’s physical and chemical methods. Burt’s Bees uses hydrated silica to gently scrub the stains from your teeth.
If natural toothpastes in the past were chalky and soured you on the content, this will be an improvement. The taste was a really fresh, clean, real mint taste, but we did experience a hint of an aftertaste.
Whitening Ingredient: Hydrated silica | Size: 4.7 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Best for Cavity Prevention
Colgate Optic White Advanced Teeth Whitening Toothpaste
Why We Like It: It works great as a daily toothpaste.
It’s Worth Noting: This contains SLS.
The moderate whitening power of this toothpaste is in the bleaching agent — two percent hydrogen peroxide. For reference, high dose formulas can have more than five percent of the ingredient. We saw a slight improvement in the color of our teeth after a month of testing and that was counteracting years of coffee and red wine stains. This pick is best for removing surface stains or maintaining the current shade of your teeth. Since bleaching agents take time to work, the longer you can leave this on your teeth as you brush, the better it will work.
We did love this as an everyday toothpaste option as we experienced no sensitivity while brushing, or to hot and cold beverages. It also tastes minty fresh and froths up nicely in the mouth without creating an overwhelming cloud of foam. This pick was also recommended by celebrity cosmetic dentist Brian Kantor, D.D.S., of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York City, because it contains an anti-cavity fluoride as well.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can be irritating for some users, including contributing to canker sores. If you know this is a concern for you, this may not be the best formula to use. The Tom’s of Maine formula has SLS derived from coconut (versus petroleum) MOON is SLS free.
Whitening Ingredient: Hydrogen peroxide, silica | Size: 3.2 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Best for Enamel
Crest 3D White Professional Enamel Protect Toothpaste
Why We Like It: This formula helps prevent cavities and new stains.
It’s Worth Noting: The tubes are very small.
With silica being the main whitening ingredient, this toothpaste is best for buffing the surface of your teeth to make them shine. We saw a slight improvement in the shade of our smile over the course of testing, but this paste really shines in the prevention category. It contains sodium fluoride to strengthen weakened enamel and prevent cavities and also has sodium hexametaphosphate, an ingredient that blocks stains, too.
This is a true white paste consistency, versus a gel, and the texture was fine, albeit slightly gritty due to the silica. This is also a mild mint flavor — a boon for anyone who finds toothpastes a bit overpowering, especially in the morning after breakfast or when you want to go right back to drinking your cup of coffee.
The downside of this pick is the size of the tubes, at only three ounces, they are smaller than average (like Burt’s Bees is a 4.7-ounce tube) and more expensive per ounce.
Whitening Ingredient: Silica | Size: 3 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Best for Gum Health
Crest Gum and Sensitivity Gentle Whitening Toothpaste
Why We Like It: It contains ingredients that can help treat gingivitis.
It’s Worth Noting: It’s one of the more expensive toothpaste options.
While whitening teeth is a popular goal, maintaining the actual health of your teeth is most important. But who says you can’t tackle both in one tube? This formula contains silica to buff off stains as well as stannous fluoride — the type of fluoride that can prevent cavities and plaque and bacteria (sodium fluoride only works at cavity defense). In addition to those ingredients, it contains amino acid glycine. Amino acid glycine has been studied and shows a reduction in inflammation and bleeding as well as prevention of gingivitis (when combined with stannous fluoride). It acts as a stabilizing ingredient for the fluoride.
It is not marketed as for sensitive teeth, however we did not experience any during this test. Our editor had gum recession prior to the test: Four weeks is not enough time to determine effectiveness in that area, but the ingredients point to it being a good option for that concern.
This is one of the most expensive toothpastes on our list. If you are experiencing gum recession or gingivitis, this may be a tool that’s worth a little bit extra money.
Whitening Ingredient: Silica | Size: 3.7 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Best for Maintenance
Colgate Optic White Renewal Teeth Whitening Toothpaste
Why We Like It: It maintained the current level of white without sensitivity.
It’s Worth Noting: It has a thin, watery consistency.
While typically some whitening toothpastes can cause sensitivity, thanks to the hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide works as a whitening agent, because it contains volatile oxygen molecules, these molecules react to stains and break the bonds that hold them to your teeth. This process, while effective, can cause the nerves in your teeth to become more sensitive. However, this pick was a breeze for the full two minutes of daily use and didn’t cause increased sensitivity afterwards (even to iced coffee!).
The editor who tested this started with the whitest teeth of the bunch — a four on the VITA scale — she attributes that to regular Crest 3D Whitestrips use. However, she was pleasantly surprised to find that this toothpaste maintained her current level of whiteness, whereas she normally sees a decline in brightness after just toothpaste usage for a few weeks. She typically applies a white strip as occasional maintenance and it wasn’t needed at all during this test. Keeping teeth white and saving money (whitening strips are more expensive than toothpaste) is a win in our books.
The texture of this product has less of a pasty consistency and is thinner, more watery. It brushes fine, but is something to consider if you have strong texture preferences. The mint flavor is also less intense, more of a spearmint gum flavor than a strong peppermint.
Whitening Ingredient: Hydrogen peroxide, silica | Size: 3 oz. | Fluoride: Yes
Best with Baking Soda
Colgate Baking Soda and Peroxide Whitening Bubbles Toothpaste
Why We Like It: This is the best value for the money.
It’s Worth Noting: The effects for this formula take time.
This Colgate formula contains a trio of whitening ingredients: Baking soda, peroxide, and silica. Think of baking soda and silica as the scrub brush when doing dishes — both act as abrasives to gently scrub off surface stains and brighten. Peroxide is like adding soap to that situation. The oxygen molecules “bubble” to break down plaque and discoloration.
The price is a big selling point for this formula. Less than a Lincoln for two tubes with six ounces each. It didn’t cause any sensitivity for the teeth or gums and has a smooth application and texture. The mint taste was also pleasant and didn’t cause a “fight the burn” feeling. We did experience a two shade difference in whitening, it took the full length of the test and wasn’t as dramatic of results as other formulas.
Whitening Ingredient: Silica, baking soda, peroxide | Size: 6 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Tom’s of Maine Simply White Toothpaste Gel
Why We Like It: There are no artificial colors or flavors.
It’s Worth Noting: This seems best for surface discoloration.
Many “natural” formulas are fluoride-free, even though dentists and the American Dental Association recommend it for daily brushing. Tom’s of Maine has the best of both worlds — the ingredients you need, without the additives. All colors, flavors, and preservatives are naturally derived and their formulas are vegan and cruelty-free.
The toothpaste left our mouth feeling cleaning and fresh and the mint flavor didn’t linger for too long, which is ideal if you’re a pre-breakfast brusher. The texture of the paste wasn’t granular or too foamy. All in all, it had a pleasant mouthfeel. The large tube size is also a great value for the price.
There was a slight difference in teeth whiteness during this test, however it’s best for surface stains. Think: the tinge after a glass of red wine or slight yellowing, versus several shades whiter.
Whitening Ingredient: Silica | Size: 5.2 oz | Fluoride: Yes
Moon Anticavity Whitening Toothpaste with Fluoride
Why We Like It: The natural oils that flavor this toothpaste.
It’s Worth Noting: The hard plastic makes it difficult to squeeze.
MOON took the oral care industry by storm thanks to their celebrity collaborators, like Kendall Jenner and Odell Beckham Jr, and dedicated fans. The formulas are all vegan and free of artificial flavoring. There aren’t typically animal products in toothpaste, however some animal derivatives may be included (honey, glycerin, etc).
The whitening collections are some of their top-sellers. This pick does contain hydrogen peroxide, but it is listed at the end of the ingredient list, meaning it is at a low percentage, whereas silica is listed near the top. The low concentration of hydrogen peroxide also makes it a better pick for sensitive teeth. The fresh mint flavor comes from peppermint oil and is more subtle than a synthetic mint — a positive or negative depending on your tastebuds.
The tube of this paste is aesthetically pleasing, but the hard plastic and stiff label means it takes more effort to get out a glob. The juice is worth the squeeze in this case.
Whitening Ingredient: Silica, hydrogen peroxide | Size: | Fluoride: Yes
Our Testing Process
Shelves of the supermarket or beauty supply are well stocked with toothpaste options. And with whitening being a common concern, many of them also make that claim. Knowing how overwhelming (and important) that decision can be, that is where our story started: Considering all the options available. We first consulted dentists to find out what our toothpastes should contain (fluoride) and what to avoid (charcoal) and then we made our list of the best-selling and top rated whitening toothpastes. That left us with a list of 24.
We recruited 24 editors to test and each was given one tube to use for the duration of the test — twice a day for an entire month of use. They took before and after pictures to track results as well as noted the color of their teeth on day 1 and day 30 using the VITA Bleachedguide 3D-MASTER. Along the way, our testers considered the effectiveness, comfort (sensitivity), and taste of their toothpaste and rated it on a scale of 1-5. Once we analyzed the results and considered the pros, cons, and details of each whitening toothpaste, we were prepared to create these recommendations for the best ones.
What to Know About Whitening Toothpastes
In addition to mechanical cleaning, toothpaste often contains fluoride and other mineralizing agents that can help to strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to acid erosion. These ingredients work by remineralizing and hardening the tooth surface, making it less susceptible to damage from harmful oral bacteria, says Matt Nejad, D.D.S, a cosmetic and biomimetic dentist in Beverly Hills, California. Overall, using toothpaste regularly as part of a good oral hygiene routine is a crucial step in protecting tooth enamel and preventing cavities. Picking a toothpaste with whitening agents can tackle both concerns — healthy and white teeth — in one step.
Fluoride helps to strengthen your tooth enamel, making it more resistant to acid erosion and demineralization. By improving the resistance of your teeth to decay, fluoride can significantly reduce the likelihood of cavity formation. Since fluoride in toothpaste is required in order to get the American Dental Association seal of approval, all of the toothpastes in our test contained the ingredient.
There are two ways that toothpastes can whiten teeth — through a physical abrasive or a bleaching agent. Physical abrasives, like silica, scrub plaque and stains off the surface of the teeth. Hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide are chemicals that break down stains and essentially bleach the teeth into a lighter shade. Have no fear: this process is safe for teeth, so long as you follow the directions and don’t overuse any whitening method. Colgate Optic White Renewal Teeth Whitening Toothpaste has three percent hydrogen peroxide in the formula.
Baking soda in a whitening toothpaste acts as a mild abrasive that can effectively remove plaque and clean the teeth. Unlike harsher abrasives, baking soda is gentle enough to avoid removing too much enamel, making it a popular ingredient in many whitening toothpaste formulations, explains Nejad. We liked Colgate Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening Toothpaste.
Toothpaste offers several ways to protect tooth enamel and prevent cavities. Firstly, the action of brushing with toothpaste helps to remove plaque and food particles from the tooth surface, explains Nejad. “By reducing the amount of bacteria and carbohydrates present in the mouth, the risk of acid production and subsequent cavity formation is minimized.” If this health is not maintained, it can contribute to a cycle called demineralization, or the breakdown of your protective enamel. How to remineralize teeth involves restoring lost minerals to once again strengthen your enamel.
One of the safest ways to “remineralize” teeth is to elevate the oral pH frequently while also providing enough safe material for teeth to absorb at the same time, says Lewis Gross, D.D.S., a holistic dentist and founder of Alka-White. He suggests looking for ingredients that will directly elevate oral pH, like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), or indirectly by reducing the ability of bacteria to create sugar acids, like xylitol. Xylitol is found in Tom’s of Maine Simply White Toothpaste.
Ingredients that can be safely absorbed into tooth structure without health concerns also include potassium and magnesium carbonate. “It’s important to keep in mind that the best treatment to whiten teeth is prevention and that any treatment will need to include ingredients to address plaque removal, gum inflammation, and the bacterial environment,” adds Gross.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do whitening toothpastes work?
“Whitening toothpastes contain some type of abrasive ingredient that can remove the surface stains and make the teeth appear whiter than they were before,” explains Kantor. Essentially, these abrasives — oftentimes minerals such as silica — work by scrubbing off discoloration, not unlike grains and beads in exfoliating skin scrubs buff off dead skin cells. “Some whitening toothpastes may have a bleaching component in them, such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, but in order for a bleaching product to be most effective it has to remain isolated on the teeth for a period of time,” adds Kantor. (This is why strips or in-office bleaching treatments are so effective.)
How do you whiten teeth?
Along with enlisting a brightening toothpaste, Sheila Samaddar, D.D.S, a member of the American Dental Association and president of the DC Academy of General Dentistry, recommends staying on top of your oral hygiene in order to maintain those pearly whites. Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, floss daily, cut out smoking or the use of tobacco, limit stain-promoting foods and beverages (including the usual culprits like coffee, tea, and red wine), and pay regular visits to your dentist for checkups and cleanings, she says.
Are whitening toothpastes bad for my teeth?
Whitening toothpastes are generally safe for short-term use, but prolonged use of an abrasive toothpaste may lead to accelerated enamel wear and other complications, says Nejad. To prevent this, it’s best to avoid using abrasive toothpaste long-term. At the end of the day, as long as you’re not a super intense teeth grinder or have significantly worn down teeth (in this instance, the abrasive quality of most whitening toothpastes can be too damaging), many dentists recommend whitening toothpastes for those looking for a brighter smile.
Are charcoal toothpastes safe?
The safety of charcoal toothpaste is a topic of debate among dental professionals. While some people claim that activated charcoal can whiten teeth and improve oral health, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. “In fact, most studies suggest that charcoal toothpaste does not improve tooth color and can increase surface roughness,” Nejad says. “Additionally, the abrasive nature of charcoal toothpaste may damage tooth enamel and cause tooth sensitivity. Charcoal toothpaste may also cause staining on the gums and tongue, which can be difficult to remove,” he adds. For this reason, we did not include any toothpastes with charcoal in our test or on our winners list.
Why Trust Shape
Shannon Bauer is a senior commerce editor for the Shape brand with seven years of experience writing, editing, and producing beauty and wellness content for the top print and digital publications. She reviewed the testing methodology, read through all tester reviews, and interviewed dentists to complete this list. Shannon also uses the Colgate Optic White Advanced Teeth Whitening Toothpaste herself.