Teeth Whitening For College Women: Everything You Need To Know

We all want to have a perfect set of pearly whites, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Even when you’re brushing three times a day, drinking coffee—a staple of collegiette life—or red wine can discolor your teeth, as can a variety of other factors, like indulging your sweet tooth

But before you book an appointment with your dentist, we’ve got all the information you need about both in-office and at-home teeth whitening products. With a variety of whitening options at various price points, you’ll have a brighter smile in no time.

According to the American Dental Association, the hydrogen peroxide—an active ingredient in tooth whitening products—is generally not strong enough to damage your tooth enamel and gums. However, the ADA notes, “severe mucosal damage,” or damage to the mucous membranes in your mouth, can occur from tooth whitening products if you’re not cleaning your mouth regularly, so make sure you’re keeping your teeth and gums healthy while using whitening products, and talk to your dentist if you experience excessive gum pain or bleeding.

Here’s a chart with the top teeth whitening options and their pros and cons, which we break down in detail below. Happy teeth whitening, collegiettes!

Whitening strips: $17 to $60, drugstores

One of the most common methods of teeth whitening among collegiettes, whitening strips deliver results equal to a professional peroxide treatment. Whitening strips can cost anywhere from $17 to $60, depending on what brand and type you use. Whitening strips can be quite effective and will not damage your tooth enamel in the long run—most formulas are mild enough that you can do two whitening strip treatments a year. 

A common complaint about whitening strips is the increased tooth sensitivity that may accompany their use. After a few days of using whitening strips, many people report an increased sensitivity to cold temperatures, and the application process may become painful for people with sensitive gums. According to the ADA, tooth sensitivity can occur in up to two-thirds of those using at-home bleach treatments, but these effects are generally not long-term, as long as you use the whitening strips correctly. In fact, Raleigh, NC dentist Dr. Anna Abernethy, D.D.S., recently attended a dental conference where doctors presented research showing that whitening can strengthen your tooth enamel. So don’t be afraid to use whitening products—just make sure you brush your teeth at least twice a day and that your teeth are clean before you apply any products.

Whitening strips only work if you use them consecutively (as the directions tell you), though, so you’ll have to endure the pain in order to achieve your brightest smile. If you’re worried about sensitivity, look for a sensitive variety that will be gentler to your mouth. In her professional bleaching treatments, Dr. Abernethy uses Opalescence gels by Ultradent because they contain potassium nitrate and fluoride, which strengthen teeth and reduce sensitivity. If you can’t afford professional treatment, look for these two ingredients when shopping for whitening strips and other at-home whitening products.

You’ll need to be patient during the application process: Most whitening strips have to stay on your teeth for half an hour twice a day for two weeks, so you’ll need a set time aside when you’re studying or watching TV to let them do their magic. No matter what brand you use, most whitening strips require an hour of application a day, during which you can’t eat or drink.

Some at-home whitening strip companies offer special, time-saving formulas, like Crest’s 5 Minute Touchups or 2 Hour Express. These products are appealing, especially to collegiettes, because you need to wear them for shorter amounts of time, but Dr. Abernethy says that a “low and slow” method of tooth whitening is the most safe and effective, i.e., using a low-grade bleach for a longer amount of time than you would with quick treatments. You’ll still get a radiant effect, but you’ll be less likely to damage your tooth enamel or gums. 

Dr. Abernethy says that Crest Whitestrips® are effective, and they’re a great alternative to in-office procedures if you’re on a budget. However, Dr. Abernethy does warn that whitening strips can be difficult to apply, particularly if you have crowded teeth. “They also do not reach to the back areas of your mouth, so if you have a wide smile and show a lot of posterior teeth, you may not be able to bleach all of these teeth,” Dr. Abernethy says. If you want to perfect your teeth, Crest Whitestrips® won’t give you flawless results, but if you just want your prominent teeth to be a few shades lighter, they’re a good option.

Here are some of our picks for teeth whitening strips. You can buy these kits online or at your local drugstore—no visit to the dentist required.

Crest 3D White Whitestrips® Gentle Routine Dental Whitening Kit, $37.99, drugstore.com  
Crest Whitestrips® are the most commonly recommended whitening strips by beauty magazines, and collegiettes swear by them. The gentle routine formula is great for tooth and gum sensitivity. 

Crest 3D White Whitestrips® Professional Effects, $54.99, Walgreens.com
If you’re willing to spend a bit more on whitening strips, Crest’s professional products are the best you can buy without a professional peroxide treatment. They promise a whiter smile in just three days, with full results in 20 days. All you have to do is wear the strips for half an hour a day for 20 days, and afterwards, your smile will be gleaming.

Reba Wilson, a collegiette at McGill University, has used both Crest 3D White Whitestrips® Professional Effects products as well as the original, more affordable variety. “The first time, I used their highest end ones, and my gums became extremely sensitive but I pushed through it,” Reba says. “I again used the same ones about a year after that, and my gums were so sore, I had to stop the treatment midway through and use them sporadically afterwards until I’d finished the box.” While the Professional Effects line caused extreme sensitivity in Reba’s case, she does say that she noticed a “huge difference” in her teeth and received numerous compliments. For Reba, the regular strips were a better option as they caused less sensitivity, but she says that both options gave great results. If you have a little more cash and don’t have sensitive gums, the Professional Effects line is the best over-the-counter option for whitening strips.

Walgreens Whitening Dental Wraps, $17.49, Walgreens.com 
These whitening strips are significantly less expensive than the Crest varieties, and they promise to whiten teeth up to five shades. They need to be worn for half an hour twice a day for two weeks, and after that you’ll be on your way to a brighter smile.