Can Whitening Pens Really Whiten Your Teeth?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Teeth whitening pens are a unique whitening product that is different from all other OTC methods because it comes in the form of a pen. The bleaching gel is housed within a cylindrical tube which gets expressed when you click on one end of it, just like a pen.

colgate optic white pen - view on counter

The opposite end has a brush which you can then use to paint the whitening gel directly onto your teeth. That is a unique method of delivering the gel to your teeth because all other OTC products do not give you that level of control.

As an example, the whitening strips are a set shape and do not permit you to whiten teeth individually. Everything the strip touches, it will whiten. The pen on the other hand allows you to whiten a single tooth if you wanted to. Then it also permits you to directly get into the nooks and crannies of every tooth since it has a brush.

As innovative as it may be, you’re probably curious as to whether or not this trendy product can actually whiten your teeth. We’re here to tell you that the whitening pen can indeed whiten your teeth because it uses hydrogen peroxide.

We’ll explain more about what that means but before that we should go over how to use one. Then we’ll give you the details on all of its pros, cons, safety, and how it stacks up against other products.

How to use a teeth whitening pen

  1. Brush and floss. You want to make sure your teeth are clean prior to starting. If there is residual food covering your teeth you’ll be whitening the food and not the teeth.
  2. Click the pen. The clicking will express the whitening gel into the brush. If it is your first time using the pen you may have to click several times but each subsequent use you only need to do it once.
  3. Apply gel to teeth. Use the brush end of the pen to paint the gel onto the surfaces of all of your teeth. If you have crowns and veneers, you may want to avoid those since they don’t whiten.
  4. Apply LED light. Not all whitening pens come with a LED light but if it does, you would use it at this step. If it doesn’t have a light then skip this step.
  5. Wait for it to work. Each brand will have specific instructions for how long you should whiten. Some of them are daytime products which you whiten for 30-60 minutes while others are overnight products where you do it while you sleep.
  6. Rinse and brush. Once you’re done you can rinse out. You should also brush your teeth with a remineralizing toothpaste to remove the residual film and strengthen your teeth.

Here is a video by Colgate on how to use their Optic White overnight whitening pen:

Once again, each brand will come with instructions that may vary slightly. However the overall process should be fairly similar. We recommend following the instructions on the label of what you’re using carefully.

Brands of teeth whitening pens:

How often can you use it?

Unfortunately there is no consensus among the various brands as to how often you can use their whitening pen. We’ll give you a couple of examples as to what we mean by that.

  • MOON says that you can use it twice a day for up to two weeks.
  • SNOW says that you can use it for 21-30 days straight.
  • Smiledirectclub says to use it for 3 days straight or whenever you ened a touch up between treatments.
  • Colgate makes no mention about its frequency of use. It simply states that the pen has enough serum for 35 treatments.

It appears that a commonality among all of these pen products is that they only give you directions for how to use the product the first time. They don’t really give much information about what to do about repeat uses once you finish the treatment.

Therefore in conclusion, we don’t have a real answer as to how frequently you can or should be using your whitening pen. Quite unfortunate isn’t it?

How does it work?

The teeth whitening pens work by utilizing hydrogen peroxide in its bleaching gel which chemically oxidizes organic stains. This is a natural process that occurs when the peroxide comes into contact with tooth stain molecules.

hydrogen peroxide decomposition one step

The mechanism for how hydrogen peroxide whitens your teeth:

  • Hydrogen peroxide will naturally break down into water and oxygen but it produces free radicals (perhydroxyl) in the intermediary steps.
  • The free radicals diffuse through the tooth and oxidize all of the organic stains.
  • The oxidation process involves converting the double conjugated bonds of stains to single bonds.
  • The net loss of the double bonds result in the stains becoming “whiter”.
  • However a better way to describe it is that the peroxide simply makes the stains become invisible to our eyes.
hydrogen peroxide decomposition to radicals - reaction equations
Free radical production from decomposition of hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide oxidation of double bonds
Credit: Clifton Carey

Since the vast majority of teeth whitening products use hydrogen peroxide in its formula, it means the mechanism for how they whiten are all the same. Studies have shown that all whitening products can whiten your teeth to the same level regardless of its concentration.

  • Lower concentration products require more time to get there.
  • Higher concentration products require less time to get there.

Therefore whitening pens should be able to make your teeth whiter based upon the laws of chemistry. However what sets the pens apart from other products is in the delivery method of the peroxide to your teeth. It is applied to your teeth via a pen with a brush, which is different from all the other products.

Are whitening pens safe to use?

As with all teeth whitening products that use peroxide, the two most common adverse effects are sensitivity and gum irritation. However according to the American Dental Association, these symptoms are usually mild and transient. They will often self-resolve within four days after finishing treatment or stopping its use.

Whitening pens are no exception to this rule since they use hydrogen peroxide as its primary whitening agent. You will most likely experience sensitivity and gum irritation at some point during your treatment. The good news is that it should go away once you stop using it.

Since the symptoms are transient in nature, we would have to say that it is relatively safe to use the pens as long as you follow the directions. If the symptoms were permanent, then we would say that it is not safe to use it but that isn’t the case.

Last but not least it is important to note that this only applies IF you are following the directions on the label. If you decide to bleach your teeth excessively like a whitening junky, the symptoms may become much more severe than what we’ve stated.

Pros and Cons

Every whitening product has its own inherent set of strengths and weaknesses. If you decide to use the pen to make your teeth whiter, you should be aware of what the pros and cons are.


  • Optionality. Since you can directly brush the gel onto your teeth, you have the option to whiten just one tooth or three teeth. You don’t have to whiten all of your teeth if you don’t want to.
  • Whiten dead teeth. Most people only have a single dead tooth which is discolored. You don’t want to whiten all the teeth because you only want the dead one to get whiter. This is so that you decrease the contrast between the alive and dead tooth. If you whiten all of your teeth including the dead one, the contrast in color will remain the same. This makes it the ideal product to use to whiten a dead tooth at home.
  • Whiten in between teeth. Since you can paint the gel directly on the teeth, you can use it to bleach in between your teeth better than other products. You can directly apply it to the nooks and crannies in between your teeth. This is a location that the strips do a poor job at getting to.
  • Ease of use. Very simple to use because you literally paint the whitening serum onto your teeth. If you can color in a coloring book, you can use this pen on your teeth. Same exact concept and skill.
  • At home. Since this is an OTC product you can do it at the comfort of your own home.
  • Portability. Some of the brands even market this as a product that you can take with you on the go. You can whiten whenever and wherever you want.
  • Inexpensive. Surprisingly the cost is very affordable. It does cost more than the whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes but it costs less than the strips.
  • Can be used with LED Light. Some of the products come with a LED light that you can use with the pen. The light will help accelerate the bleaching process.
Original SNOW teeth whitening kit


  • Low peroxide concentration. When compared to professional whitening products, the concentration of peroxide for the pens are significantly lower.
  • Lack of saliva barrier. What makes the customized take home trays from your dentist so effective is that the trays act as a barrier to saliva. Your saliva contains a lot of salivary enzymes which degrade peroxide. That makes it the mortal enemy of all whitening products. Having a tray or strip to help ward off saliva can increase the efficacy of your treatment.

How it compares to other whitening methods

Efficacy wise, we would rate it as more effective than the whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes. It is probably on par with the whitening strips but the strips may be better due to the fact that it has a saliva barrier. The flexible strips do help ward off saliva so you may get a better result with the strips.

However if your pen comes with a LED light, the tray with the light does somewhat help with keeping saliva off of your teeth. Therefore the ones with the LED light tray may perform better than the ones without the light.

Although the whitening pen will never be more effective than any of the professional whitening methods. The custom take home trays and in-office treatments just can’t be beat. The only downside to getting it done with your dentist is the cost that is involved.

Is it worth a try?

Since professional whitening costs multiples of what the teeth whitening pen does, we do believe it is worth a try. The colgate optic white pen is about $25 and you can use it for up to 35 treatments. That is a lot of uses for very little money spent.

If you compare it to in-office whitening which may cost $600-1000 we believe it is certainly worth a try. If the pen works then you’ve found an amazing way to whiten for very little money. If it doesn’t work, you wasted less money than what you would’ve spent on weekly morning coffee at starbucks.

The Verdict – Does the teeth whitening pen work?

The teeth whitening pen will make your teeth whiter since it contains hydrogen peroxide. That is the same whitening ingredient that your dentist uses for in-office treatments. The only difference is that your pen has a lower concentration of peroxide.

The consequence of having a less potent peroxide concentration is that it takes longer to whiten your teeth. That means if you choose to use the pen, it will take a longer period of time for you to see results. However if you get it done professionally, you will see it after an hour. That is essentially the effect of what concentration of peroxide has on your teeth.

With that being said, you should be aware that there are factors which make it less effective. The fact that teeth whitening pens do not have a method of warding off saliva will decrease its efficacy since saliva degrades peroxide.

Your teeth will still get whiter with consistent use but it’ll probably take a much longer period of time for you to get the results that you want with it. If you get impatient, you can simply have it done professionally.


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