Can You Whiten Your Teeth While Wearing Braces?

woman with braces and whitening strips

Are you interested in cosmetic dentistry or whitening with braces? Straightening your teeth and boosting their natural color is a great minimally-invasive, natural smile makeover option. But can you whiten your teeth while you’re wearing braces, or is it better to do it before or after? Understanding how to whiten teeth with braces boils down to the type of orthodontic system you’re using but, most importantly, the way you care for your smile during treatment. Without the right brushing and flossing routine, you could be setting yourself up for darker, dirtier tooth enamel because of stain buildup.

It Depends On Which Type Of Braces You’re Wearing

The type of braces you have will determine if you can whiten your teeth or not. For example, if you have fixed appliances on the front of your teeth (like metal brackets and wires,) they can get in the way of a typical whitening tray or whitening strip. But there are still ways to work around them. Whereas removable or hidden braces still give you the option of whitening the front of your teeth even though you’re technically in braces.

Here’s how you would whiten with braces, given the specific design:

Clear Aligners

With removable tray-style orthodontic aligners, you can take them out to bleach your teeth with whitening strips. Just make sure you’re wearing your trays a minimum of 22 hours a day, so you may be cutting it close.

Or, if you want, you can even apply the professional gel inside your aligners and have them double as whitening trays. Your dentist will let you know how long to keep the gel in since some are only meant for an hour and others are overnight. The only issue is that orthodontic aligners tend to be pretty snug, so there’s a greater risk of gel spillover onto your gums, which can cause chemical burns or bleached gum tissue.

Lingual Braces

These hidden braces are bonded to the back of your teeth, so you can technically whiten the front of them without interfering with your orthodontic appliances. While you might not be able to wear teeth whitening trays (they won’t fit over your braces), you could still have an in-office whitening treatment at your dentist’s office or apply whitening strips if you do so carefully. 

In the case of whitening strips, make sure they aren’t overlapping onto your gums. You might find that it’s better to cut them in half longways since they might not fit over your braces or could make those areas more sensitive.

Traditional Braces

Most of the discoloration you see around braces is because of stain buildup around the brackets from not brushing and flossing as well as you should. The main thing to keep in mind is to use an electric toothbrush and proxy brush (interdental brush) to clean those areas so that they stay brighter during your orthodontic treatment; then, you can whiten your teeth once the process is complete.

If you’re dead set on finding a way to whiten teeth with braces, you do have another option to consider: whitening pens. The gel from the whitening pen can be brushed around your brackets or on specific “problem areas” that you’re worried about. The only issue is that whitening pens don’t provide the longer contact time your smile needs for the gel to penetrate deep into the tiny tubules (pores) in your enamel. The impact will be minimal.

Wait Until The End Of Your Orthodontic Treatment

If you’re able, the best way to whiten with braces is to wait until your treatment is complete. Then you can use custom teeth whitening trays, whitening strips, or get an in-office treatment on your perfectly straight smile (and there won’t be any wires or brackets in the way.) At that point, your teeth will be perfectly straight and whitening will be the icing on the cake.

One reason why you want to wait on whitening is so that your dentist and orthodontist can evaluate any structural issues or demineralized enamel. For example, you might want to bond over a tiny area where a tooth is uneven. But the bonding will need to be matched to the natural color of your tooth, so you’ll want to bleach them right before that. And if there are any white spots on your teeth—which happens to some orthodontic patients—the whitening product can be adapted to better manage those areas.

Staining Around Brackets 

Unless you’re wearing removable aligners like Invisalign or ClearCorrect, cleaning around braces is a bit of a chore. Regular brushing just doesn’t cut it. You’ll need floss to clean under the wires, between teeth, and then interproximal/proxy brushes to clean on either side of the brackets. Without plenty of time and dedication, stain and tartar buildup will gradually accumulate around your braces.

Not only does this staining make your teeth darker, but it also interferes with whitening your teeth. If you apply any type of whitening gel, the whitening agents still might not penetrate the buildup. You’d be whitening the stain and tartar instead of the tooth, leaving dark enamel underneath.

Regular dental cleanings and good home care will help you avoid this temporary staining (or worse, demineralized white spots.) That way, once your braces come off, you can get one more thorough cleaning, then apply the teeth whitening agent for best results.

How To Whiten During Orthodontic Treatment Options 

Whenever someone drinks a lot of coffee or tea or has other lifestyle factors that make them get a lot of stains on their enamel, it’s normal to want to know how to whiten teeth with braces. If you’re at the point where the stain is such an issue that you’ve got to whiten with braces, here are some things you want to incorporate into your daily routine:[1]

1. Whitening Toothpaste

Toothpastes that say “whitening” on them don’t usually bleach your teeth the way you think other whitening products do. What they’re actually doing is helping reduce additional stain and discoloration before it settles into your teeth. You’d want to use whitening toothpaste if you’re more prone to stain buildup even before you had braces. The ingredients in these types of toothpaste help keep your teeth whiter than usual between whitening applications or dental checkups. But they don’t actually penetrate and oxidize stain particles the way other whitening systems do.

2. Avoiding Stain-Causing Foods/Drinks/etc.

To help limit stains around your wires and brackets (the main reason why people want to whiten with braces) is to limit stain-causing foods and drinks. If you tend to sip a cup of coffee twice a day, try to cut back on your intake and rinse your mouth with water right after. Do you smoke? The tobacco will cause serious staining, not to mention dry out your mouth and make buildup worse. Prefer red wine? Consider switching to white until your braces come off.

Making modifications in your lifestyle will definitely help keep your teeth whiter with braces.

3. Removing Plaque Every Day

Look. Cleaning around braces is rough. And when you slack off—even a little bit—you’re going to get yellow and brown buildup or white spots around your brackets. To prevent staining and keep your teeth white, you need to physically disrupt plaque buildup at least twice a day.

Take your time to brush above and below every single bracket. Then go back with some type of an interdental brush to clean under the archwires and on either side of the brackets, since a toothbrush will probably skip over those spaces. And yes, you still need to be flossing; if that’s hard to do with a threader, consider special orthodontic floss picks or a water flosser.

How To Whiten After Treatment 

Hands down, whitening after braces is the easiest and most effective way to get even results. Because even if you do whiten while you’re still in braces, you’ll usually have to go back and re-whiten your teeth after the appliances come off.

What a lot of people prefer to do is to have their teeth cleaned right after their braces are removed. That way, their hygienist can polish off all of the surface residue and stain, making whitening products more effective. You’ll have a completely blank slate to start with, giving you the best outcome possible.[2]

For the brightest teeth in the least amount of time, you’ll want to go with one of the following three options:

1. Teeth Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are available at almost every drugstore and online, so you can start using them the same day your braces come off. Or right after your dental checkup. Most teeth whitening strips are worn once a day for 30-60 minutes and 10-14 days in a row. Most over-the-counter whitening strips are safe for adults and teens alike; just make sure they don’t come into contact with your gums and that you don’t have any active cavities.

2. Whitening Trays 

Custom teeth whitening trays fit over your smile similar to removable orthodontic aligners. Except there’s a reservoir with a little more room to hold the gel against your teeth. Fitted trays allow you to use minimum amounts of a stronger professional gel for bright and even results.

Try custom whitening trays for  60% less than at the dentist's office today!

3. In-office Whitening 

Want drastically whiter teeth in one day? Ask your dentist about a same-day procedure where they whiten your teeth in the office. The visit usually takes about an hour and a half from start to finish. If you time things right, you can get your braces off and then have your teeth cleaned and bleached on the same day. 

Preventing Teeth Stain with Braces 

Tooth stain comes from foods, drinks, the environment, and is influenced by our oral hygiene routine. By practicing great oral hygiene during your braces treatment, you can prevent excess discoloration throughout your smile. Make sure you’re flossing every day, brushing at least twice a day (using a whitening toothpaste might help,) and if you want, you can use a mouthwash to help lift away loose debris your brush didn’t get.[3]

Talk With Your Dentist

A lot of people want to know how to whiten teeth with braces, but it’s better to focus on good oral hygiene and stain prevention. Then, once their braces come off, they can go for a stronger and more effective teeth whitening treatment.

Not everyone qualifies for whitening, so make sure you clear it with your dentist first. If not, you could have some major aesthetic and sensitivity issues to tackle too.

Should You Whiten Your Teeth While Wearing Braces?

Want to know how to whiten teeth with braces? Your best bet is to prevent new stain before it starts. With certain types of braces, you can still whiten, but you’ll want to work with your dentist to adapt the application process to work for your specific situation. But for more dramatic results that people will notice, save the whitening for after your braces come off once and for all.