Teeth Whitening Pen Consumer Guide

“Studies show 3-4 shades of whitening with nightly use of a whitening pen over a two-week period.”

Dr. Lara T. Coseo



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Teeth Whitening Pens

Teeth whitening has been popular for many years and in that time the dental industry has developed a deeper understanding of the teeth bleaching process. This has resulted in many changes in the technology, technique,  and application of both professional and over-the-counter products.

The wide range of different teeth whitening options available reflects the high customer demand for teeth whitening.

 Unfortunately, confusing marketing and fake reviews can leave consumers bewildered as to which products actually work. 

In this article, Dr. Lara continues her series on teeth whitening with a look at over-the-counter teeth whitening pens.

What is a Teeth Whitening Pen?

Teeth whitening pens are an over-the-counter teeth whitener that allows the user to paint the whitening product directly onto the teeth.  They are also called paint-on whiteners and direct application teeth whitening. Whitening pens and swabs do not use any type of tray or carrier to hold the gel onto the teeth.  Because nothing covers the gel, we also call this barrier-free whitening.

The purpose of whitening pens is the same as that of all other teeth whitening products: to produce noticeable lightening of the color of teeth and improve the appearance of the smile.  As we age, teeth naturally become more yellow over time, so in contrast, whitening the teeth gives the smile a younger look.

What ingredients to look for

For true whitening to occur, a whitening pen must contain an ingredient that will penetrate the tooth enamel and oxidize the darkly colored teeth stains present underneath.  The only active ingredient capable of this action is hydrogen peroxide or a compound that breaks down to release hydrogen peroxide.

At this time, commercially available whitening pens that actually work will contain one of these three active ingredients: hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, or sodium perborate.  You will likely see a percentage noted next to these ingredients, which describes the concentration of the active ingredient in the pen.  The higher this number, the stronger the whitening pen is.  A higher percentage of peroxide should produce faster results that are more noticeable.

Oxidation of the dark, pigmented compounds underlying the enamel surface only occurs when peroxide takes action.  If you do not see one of those ingredients listed, or the product claims to be “peroxide-free”, then it is unlikely to have any true whitening action.  Most of these products claim to be safer than peroxide whitening compounds, but this claim is unfounded because peroxide is perfectly safe.

Why Choose a Whitening Pen?

Compared to other treatments, there are several advantages of the pen or swab method of teeth whitening. Find out more about the different teeth whitening methods here.  People typically choose to try out whitening pens for one of the following reasons.


Teeth whitening pens and swab can be purchased over the counter in most grocery and drug stores.  They are also available online. They do not require a visit to the dentist or any lengthy appointments.  There are no complicated instructions, and they do not require any accessories in order to use them.

Easy to Apply

The method of application is very simple for paint-on whiteners.  The technique is similar to painting your fingernails. You do not have to use any complicated applicators to place gel into a tray or attempt to place slippery strips onto the teeth.  

Less Time-Consuming

After you paint or swab the gel onto the teeth, your work is done. The gel works by sticking to the teeth and comes off the next time you brush your teeth. Compared to other whitening options, which require removal and immediate cleanup, whitening pens only require an application. Therefore, you only spend a few minutes to apply the whitener, and you can walk away.

How do whitening pens work?

Whitening pens work by expressing a teeth-whitening gel, which “dries” into a layer of film on the surfaces of the teeth onto which you have painted it.  The pen allows the user to place the whitening gel directly onto the tooth surface. Any whitening effect is due to the gel’s ability to adhere to the teeth without the aid of a barrier.

The active ingredient in paint-on whitening gels is typically a relative of hydrogen peroxide.  Both carbamide peroxide and sodium percarbonate break down into hydrogen peroxide, which penetrates the tooth enamel and breaks down darkly colored, pigmented stains.

Do Whitening pens work?

That is a great question!  No one would create a consumer product without claiming that it works.  All advertisements for teeth whitening pens and swabs promise instant, noticeable results.  They often include celebrity endorsements to “prove” their claims.  

If you are considering teeth whitening with any type of over-the-counter product, it is important to read the customer reviews.  They will tell you of real-world experience with the product.  

It is possible to find scientific research on both sides of the issue.  A few studies show 3-4 shades of whitening with nightly use of a whitening pen over a two-week period.  One project used a blue dye in the whitening gel to allow the researchers to study its ability to stay on the teeth overnight.  The results of this particular study showed that 77% of the tooth surfaces intended for whitening maintained a covering of the blue gel after overnight wear.  This implies that, for that particular brand, the gel does stay in contact with enamel long enough for the whitening ingredient to penetrate and improve color.

Studies of the effectiveness of paint-on whiteners as compared to other whitening methods consistently show that paint-on whitening products do not produce the same level of results as strips and gel applied in carrier trays.

Reasons for poor Results

 Improper Application

It can be difficult to see where the gel is on the teeth, so it is possible for people to miss areas of the teeth when applying the gel.  If the gel does not touch a tooth, you cannot have whitening results on it.

Lack of Barrier allows Gel to Wash Away

It is possible that the film formed by the whitening gel is washed away by saliva or anything you eat and drink.  In one study of paint-on whitening products, the study participants experienced much greater results when they wore a mouthpiece to “cover” the whitening gel.  The conclusion was that protecting the film from saliva kept it on the teeth, allowing it to work longer and produce a better result.

Hardening of Film Prevents Active Ingredient from Penetrating Enamel

Another possible cause of reduced effectiveness is a lack of penetration into the enamel.  The very mechanism that allows this product to adhere to the teeth (which is necessary for any result at all) could prevent its penetration into the teeth.

Are Whitening Pens Safe?

Research studying the safety of paint-on, barrier-free whitening gels shows that they are safe for use when you follow the instructions.  It is always a good idea to consult with your dentist before you use any type of teeth whitening product. The peroxide chemicals can lead to tooth sensitivity, which would be much greater in a tooth with a large cavity, tooth fracture, or gum recession.  Your dentist can advise you of any dental problems that could lead to a bad or painful teeth-whitening experience.

Most manufacturers recommend that you only use the product for two weeks.  It is not likely that you will cause any permanent damage to your teeth by using it longer than two weeks. The reason for the limitation is that you should see a difference by that time.  If you do not, you should recruit the advice of a professional, so call your dentist.

Another reason you should call your dentist is experiencing severe tooth sensitivity or sharp pains in the teeth you have whitened.  Your dentist should evaluate your teeth and gums to confirm that you do not have any active dental disease that requires treatment.

A whitening pen is safe for use by children, but only if a responsible, instruction-following adult supervises them.  It is best to wait until the child is at least 12 years old. Whitening has not been shown to be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.  There are no studies showing the levels of peroxide that cross the placental barrier or enters the mother’s milk.  Most practitioners agree that without proven safety, we cannot recommend it. It is best to defer any teeth whitening until the baby is born and after you finish breastfeeding.

Editor Choices

Although teeth whitening pens aren’t as effective as a professional whitening procedure administered by a dentist, they do offer a cheap and easy alternative that can give good results. We have picked out some of the best options.

Kendall Jenner

The popular model and Instagirl has teamed up with Moon Oral Care to develop her signature whitening pen. Kendall worked alongside the development team at Moon to blend some of her favorite ingredients with a urea peroxide whitening formula. The 2.65 ML capacity will give around 30 uses.

Ecco Pure

The Eco Pure whitening pen uses a 35% carbamide peroxide neutral PH gel. The tip of the pen is fine enough to allow the user to apply the whitening gel accurately to the teeth without touching the gums. The 2ML capacity should give around 20 normal uses.


This Auraglow whitening pen houses a 2ML reservoir of  35% Carbamide peroxide bleaching formulation. The active ingredient is suspended in a glycerine base and enhanced with a cool-mint flavoring. The 2ML capacity will give between 15 to 20 uses.

Bright White

 The Bright White from Asavia is a 5-inch pen with a 2ML chamber containing a powerful 35% carbamide peroxide whitening gel. Each pen provides about 20 uses which can lighten teeth by 4 shades or more according to Asavia.

What are Some Alternative Options?

Other over-the-counter teeth whitening options include whitening toothpaste, strips, and gel in a carrier tray.  Here are the important things you need to know about these options.

 Whitening toothpaste

Whitening toothpastes are abrasive and function to polish away superficial stains from the outermost surface of the enamel.  Even those containing peroxide in their ingredients do not achieve chemical whitening due to its extremely low concentration and short working time.

 Whitening Strips

Whitening Strips consistently out-performed paint-on whitening gels in research studies, so you can expect a better result.  Strips can be awkward to deal with and difficult to keep in place on the teeth.

 Whitening Gel in a Carrier Tray

The one-size-fits-all whitening trays do not provide the best contact between gel and teeth, but the barrier the tray provides leads to consistently better whitening results than paint-on whitening gels. 

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are a cost-effective way to achieve a good level of teeth whitening.

Whitening toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste can help to remove mild surface stains and return teeth to their normal color.

whitening trays

Although one-size-fits-all mouth trays are not as efficient as professional systems they can deliver good results.

Authors & Contributors

Dr. Lara T. Coseo

Dr. Lara T. Coseo



Delivery, substantivity and clinical response of a direct application percarbonate tooth whitening film.

Date RF1, Yue J, Barlow AP, Bellamy PG, Prendergast MJ, Gerlach RW.

Randomized clinical trial comparing whitening strips, paint-on gel and negative control.

Xu X1, Zhu L, Tang Y, Wang Y, Zhang K, Li S, Bohman LC, Gerlach RW.

Over-the-counter whitening agents: a concise review

Flávio Fernando Demarco, Sônia Saeger Meireles, Alexandre Severo Masotti
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Teeth Whitening Pens Consumer Guide
In this article, Dr. Lara discusses over-the-counter teeth whitening pens as a method of removing teeth stains.
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