This At-Home Teeth Whitening System Rivals In-Office Treatments

All things considered, I seriously lucked out in the teeth department. I have a routine that gets me glowing reviews at the dentist: I use an electric toothbrush twice a day with stain-removing toothpaste. In the evenings, I also floss and use fluoride rinse. But even with all of that, I still deal with some staining. I'm a serious tea drinker, and therefore not even my thorough routine can prevent some discoloration from my daily cup of Irish breakfast. (It also doesn't help that red wine is my dinner beverage of choice.) All that to say I could use help in the teeth-whitening department. Having only previously used Whitestrips on an inconsistent basis, I've always been curious about professional whitening, but have always been deterred by the cost. When the opportunity to try Smile Brilliant's at-home whitening system fell into my lap, I jumped at the chance to give the brand a try. Unlike drugstore strips, the company creates custom-fit trays for your teeth to maximize the fit, and therefore the efficacy, of the product. This was no mere one-size-fits-all approach to home teeth beautification — and I was intrigued. Ahead, join me as I embarked on the lengthy journey with Smile Brilliant's system, and find out whether or not it earns our stamp of approval.
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Making The Molds

The intro kit came with everything I needed to make my custom teeth whitening tray molds — putty, plastic trays for my upper and lower rows, a prepaid return envelope, plus detailed instructions (with photos!) as to get it right. Lucky for all the worriers and perfectionists out there, you could email photos of your impressions to the Smile Brilliant team and they would be able to let you know if they've been done correctly.
Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
The process of making your custom trays is simple enough but offers plenty of pitfalls if you don't follow the instructions to a T. The first step involved mixing the small tubs of base (blue) and catalyst (white) pastes — one and one per row of teeth. (They include three sets of putty in total — in case you mess up once — and should you need more, customer service can also take care of that for you.) The goal here was to mix it so the color was totally uniform, which required a fair amount of working the Play-Doh-like squishy stuff. (The first time, I ended up getting a bunch underneath my nails. The second time, I used a mini spatula from some fancy moisturizer to scoop it out — a pro tip I couldn't recommend more.)
After mixing, you shape the putty into the plastic tray before making an imprint of your top and bottom row of teeth by carefully squishing them into the mixture and waiting for it to solidify around your soon-to-be pearlier whites. According to the instructions, it will take around three minutes for the putty to semi-solidify, and a word to the wise: This will feel like the longest three minutes of your life. (Also, get ready to drool like you have lost all ability to retain saliva in your mouth.)
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The Whitening Process

Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
A few weeks later, my custom trays arrived alongside vials of whitening and desensitizing gel. The kit also included very detailed instructions, which I reread at least four times before getting started. (Another important thing to note: Be sure to check with your dentist if the carbamide peroxide solution is suitable for your teeth. Also, don't use this whitening system if you're currently pregnant.) From there, I embarked on the first step: brushing and flossing, sans toothpaste to get my chompers squeaky clean before putting the trays on. Then I applied a "ribbon" of whitening gel to the inside of the trays — specifically, the ones that will make contact with the front of your teeth. (Pro tip: Do both trays first so you can put them on quickly without switching back and forth.) From there, I carefully slipped the top and bottom trays onto my teeth, trying my best to not smudge the gel onto my gums. (This can apparently enhance sensitivity.) The instructions say you can leave the whitening gel on for anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours; anything more than an hour sounded like a very long time, so I stuck to an hour for my sessions. (I did five — a little less than twice a week for three weeks — for this review.)
Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
The author, mid-teeth whitening session.
As someone who hated the feeling of Whitestrips, I was surprised at how comfortable and non-bulky the trays were. (As they very well should be — they're quite literally made for me!) I'm not going to lie, I was skeptical that all the effort in creating bespoke trays would even be worth it. For comfort reasons alone, my answer is a resounding yes.
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As I mentioned earlier, my teeth don't tend to be very sensitive to begin with, and I definitely wanted to keep it that way as I embarked on a teeth whitening journey. After my hour was up, I carefully removed the trays and brushed my teeth (with toothpaste this time), as per the instructions. From there, I rinsed and dried the trays, and applied the desensitizing gel, which came in a similar syringe as the whitening gel. I slipped the trays back on and left them for 15 minutes as a soothing remedy for my freshly-peroxided chompers. Finally, I removed the trays (no teeth-brushing this time) and was, at last, done with my session. I personally noticed a very slight amount of sensitivity, which is totally normal, and simply paid attention to how my teeth were feeling as I continued with the sessions. It's always a better, safer idea to go slow rather than try to speed through the process.
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Depending on how stained your teeth are — and whether you suffer from any sensitivity — Smile Brilliant allows you to customize your system so you only pay for what you need. (For example, you can choose from bundles of three, six, or nine vials of whitening gel, either with or without the same number of desensitizing gel.) For the purposes of this story, the brand comped me an order of the T6 Sensitive System (for average stains), which included six syringes of whitening gel and six syringes of desensitizing gel, which totaled 18 sessions. (Each syringe has 3-4 uses.) Retailing for $179, the T6 system is honestly a bargain compared to professional, in-office treatments. (My dentist charges $500 a pop for those.) I saw noticeable results after five sessions, and best of all was able to do it at home while watching Netflix.
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Photo: Courtesy of Karina Hoshikawa
Left: Before whitening. Right: After five sessions.
Just as with anything, you get what you pay for when it comes to teeth whitening; a $20 pen probably won't work nearly as well compared to $50 strips, which may not work as well as a near-$200 system like this one, which is meant to mimic professional results. Although the entire process from start to finish (including getting my trays done and waiting for my custom system to arrive) took longer than it takes to Amazon Prime a box of Whitestrips, the results were well worth it.
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