Whitening products can contain various ingredients, each with its own specific function and ability to whiten on different levels. Ingredients often included in common teeth whiteners can include:
Alcohol dehydrates the gel or brush-on formula so that it stays on your teeth to do the job. However, alcohol can also dry out the mouth by decreasing saliva flow, leaving your mouth and teeth more susceptible to bad breath and tooth decay.
Blue covarine is usually combined with silica-based whitening formulas. It has been shown to effectively whiten teeth virtually immediately. It does this by adhering to the surface of your teeth and reflecting light more effectively.
Many gel-based bleaching products that you would purchase in a store contain the active ingredient carbamide peroxide. Carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. It takes nearly three times as much carbamide peroxide to produce the same effect as hydrogen peroxide.
Carbopolpolymers are added to teeth whitening gels to thicken, stabilize and make the whitening formula effective over time. Carbopol is usually combined with carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide-based whitening formulas.
Chlorine dioxide is a bleaching agent that was once seen as an alternative to hydrogen peroxide. It works similarly to peroxide in that it dehydrates the enamel making it more porous so that the stains can be removed. Chlorine dioxide-based whitening products are now banned in the UK amid concerns of the longer term damage as a result of the increased porosity of the enamel. It is recommended to avoid products containing chlorine dioxide.
Citric acid oils such as those found in lemon and orange peels have been shown to whiten teeth, and so are common ingredients in whitening strips.
Glycerin speeds up the whitening process by actually stripping enamel of moisture so that the whitening agent can get to the subsurface stains. This is the part of the whitening process where sensitivity can occur. Glycerin is used to extend the shelf-life of the product, as well.
Hydrogen peroxide is the most common whitening ingredient used in dental office whitening procedures. These procedures use a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide than the typical 3% people usually buy to keep in their medicine cabinet. These stronger hydrogen peroxide gels need to be properly applied to get the best effect and reduce soft tissue irritation. The advantage to the stronger formulas is that results are seen much faster and can be even faster with the use of a gel-activating light.
Purified water is used to create the solution of whitening ingredients.
A form of silica dioxide is commonly used in toothpastes. Silica particles are abrasive and wear down the pellicle coating on the tooth to release stains and polish teeth while brushing.
Sodium chloride is the chemical name for table salt. This ingredient has been proven as an effective whitening agent and may be used in non-peroxide whitening products.
Sodium hexametaphosphate and pyrophosphates
Both the ingredients are known for their ability to break down extrinsic stains and prevent tartar. They also have the added advantage of clinging to the pellicle to prevent further stains. They also improve the quality and stability of the whitening product. Pyrophosphate in particular temporarily inhibits the formation of hydroxylapatite (the mineral in tooth enamel) which allows the whitening agent to do its job.
Commonly known as lye, it is the cleaning agent in soap and a common whitening ingredient in whitening toothpastes. It is used because it’s effective in dissolving protein based deposits, which is what the pellicle coating is on the enamel is made of.
Sodium saccharin is an artificial sweetener.
Sodium stannate is a colorless salt that is used as stabilizing agent for hydrogen peroxide. A stabilizing agent is needed to keep the peroxide from degrading so the peroxide effect can last longer.
Xylitol is a plant-derived sweetener that does not impact blood sugar. It also has the ability to reduce tooth decay by helping to remineralize enamel.