Paint-on teeth whitening first appeared on the over-the-counter marketplace in 2002 when Colgate-Palmolive Company introduced their product Colgate Simply White ®. Since then they have introduced another paint-on tooth whitener, this one named Colgate Simply White Night ® (2003). Crest ® has also entered the field of paint-on teeth whitening with their product named Crest Night Effects ® (2003).
As you might expect paint-on teeth whitening involves painting a peroxide-based bleaching gel onto the surface of teeth, one tooth at a time. This painting activity is not unlike the way polish is applied to fingernails, and in similar fashion as with these products the applicator brush is incorporated into the whitener's packaging. Once the paint-on gel has been applied to a tooth's surface it solidifies so to form a somewhat invisible film.
( It's always best to have a dental exam performed by your dentist before you use any teeth whitening product. [ More about the prudence of having a pre-whitening treatment dental examination. >> ] )
The directions for Colgate Simply White ® state that the whitener should be applied twice a day for a duration of 30 minutes each time. Colgate Simply White Night ® and Crest Night Effects ® are intended to be applied at bedtime for use overnight as you sleep.
A person's oral environment will have a strong influence on how long the bleaching film will stay intact on the tooth's surface and thus be effective. Usually the instructions for paint-on products will encourage you to minimize rinsing, eating, and drinking. They will also state that you should try to minimize friction created by your lips and tongue with the tooth surfaces on which the whitening product has been applied. With time the whitening film will degrade or, as an alternative, the film can be removed all at once by brushing it off with your toothbrush.
Colgate Simply White ®, the first over-the-counter paint-on teeth whitener to be introduced, utilizes 18% carbamide peroxide (equivalent to 6.3% hydrogen peroxide) as its bleaching agent. Carbamide peroxide at a concentration of 10% has a long history of being used as a teeth whitening agent in tray-based technique. One might assume that Colgate-Palmolive has chosen to use this higher concentration (18%) of carbamide peroxide for their paint-on product because with this technique the bleaching agent is not protected by a bleaching tray but instead incorporated into a film that is exposed to, and fairly vulnerable to, the oral environment.
Based on the studies we've read we would anticipate that most people would find either
tray-based teeth whitening utilizing a 10% carbamide peroxide whitener or
a whitening strip system to be more effective than paint-on teeth whitening products.
Our Gerlach (2003) reference specifically found whitening with Whitestrips to be more effective than a paint-on product. Our review of other studies involving paint-on whiteners (often manufacturer sponsored) found that their effectiveness was often only compared to non-bleaching items (either a placebo treatment or a whitening toothpaste) as opposed to a direct head-to-head comparison with whitening methods universally accepted as being effective (such as tray-based whitening utilizing 10% carbamide peroxide).
It would be our conjecture that a deficiency with paint-on teeth whitening systems is the unprotected nature of its whitener delivery system (the film). As evidence, there would be no question that tray applied carbamide peroxide bleaching gels delivering an equivalent peroxide exposure as paint-on gels would produce a significant whitening effect, yet paint-on applied whiteners haven't been shown to. We would expect that the "night" formulations of paint-on teeth whiteners (such as Colgate Simply White Night ® or Crest Night Effects ®) might produce better results than the daytime version (as found by our Barlow 2003 reference), possibly related to being able to create a more durable whitening film.