Tips for a Brighter, Whiter Smile

Tea, red wine, and blueberries may be chock full of antioxidants, but these health boosters may also be standing in the way of your pearly white smile.

Yellow, dingy teeth are a common complaint. The brightness of your smile is somewhat dependent on factors like your age and diet. As you get older, the outer part of your teeth wears thin, allowing the yellowish dentin to show through. And the things you eat and drink, like coffee, tea, cola, wine and berries, may also discolor your teeth. Luckily, with the variety of tooth-whitening products on the market today, removing dental stains doesn’t have to be expensive or cumbersome.

Check with Your Dentist
Even if your stains are mild, it's a good idea to check with your dentist before beginning any whitening process. People with very gray teeth or special dental work such as caps and crowns aren't good candidates for teeth whitening, but your dentist can discuss your options with you.

A dentist can help you distinguish between intrinsic (internal) and surface stains. Intrinsic stains, which occur inside the tooth, can stem from childhood antibiotic (tetracycline) use, trauma (when a tooth’s nerve dies, the tooth itself can turn brown, gray or black) or overexposure to fluoride when teeth are forming (which can give teeth a spotty, mottled look). This type of stain can only be corrected by a dentist.

Surface stains can be removed with whitening toothpastes, over-the-counter bleaching kits, and professional cleanings. Your dentist will be able to help you select a good whitening method and help prevent misuse and potential side effects.

Whitening Toothpaste
If your stains are minor, you may have good results by simply using whitening toothpaste, which contains mild abrasives that scrub away stains while you brush. Whitening toothpastes that are awarded the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance have special chemical or polishing agents added that provide extra stain removal, but do not change the intrinsic color of your teeth.

Do-It-Yourself Whitening Kits
There are many affordable teeth whitening kits available online and at your local pharmacy. Common options include:
  • Gels that you have to paint onto each individual tooth
  • Whitening solution inside mouth trays that fit inside your mouth
  • Whitening solution on flexible, plastic strips that stick to your teeth
The active ingredient in most whitening kits is carbamide peroxide, which acts as a bleach to remove surface stains from teeth. While these kits can produce a noticeably whiter smile, they tend to take about two or three weeks to get the job done. All products bearing the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain 10 percent carbamide peroxide. Although teeth whitening products are approved by the ADA, there are some common side effects. Teeth can become sensitive as long as you are using the bleaching solution, and gums can become irritated (from a poorly fitting mouth tray, for example). If side effects are a concern to you, the safest choice is to have a dental professional whiten your teeth.

Professional Whitening
If you would like faster or more dramatic results, a professional whitening session at the dentist’s office is in order. Your dentist will use a higher concentration of peroxide and may increase the effectiveness of the process by augmenting the bleaching action with a special light or laser. Dramatic whitening can be achieved in about an hour using this technique, but it can cost several hundred dollars. All professional whiteners with the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain 35 percent hydrogen peroxide.

General Tips for a Brighter Smile
The best way to remove surface stains is to start with a professional cleaning at the dentist’s office. Once you’ve got a clean slate, you can maintain your brighter smile by:
  • Brushing and flossing daily. Regular dental care will remove plaque before it can accumulate and attract stains.
  • Getting teeth professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Tartar buildup tends to stain easily and is very noticeable.
  • Not smoking. Smoking is a major cause of yellow stains on the teeth. It can also damage your gums.
  • Carefully choosing your beverages. Coffee, tea and cola are prime culprits. Limit your consumption to one or two servings per day and brush immediately afterwards.
  • Using a straw. Sip cola, juice and iced tea through a straw to reduce contact with your teeth.
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Member Comments

Thank you! Report
Thanks for the great article! :-) Report
I am a registered dental assistant. Crest whitening strips work & don't cause sensitivity. Some other methods help too. I have teeth prone to cold sensitivity so I am very cautious myself.
For those w/ intrinsic darkness, genetics or Rx, an alternative to crowns is having a white filling material bonded over each tooth. Costly but less difficult than crowns & normally they don't remove sound, healthy tooth structure first or if they must, it's way less. Some people choose to just do the top 6 teeth in front to save money, it's what really shows w/ most smiles.
Baking soda & hydrogen peroxide can be used at home but is abrasive so do it sparingly. Gel toothpaste is also more abrasive than a regular cream one.
Brushing twice daily & flossing daily ( or at least using a water pik) will help keep your teeth & gums healthy plus getting a professional cleaning at least two times yearly so they can get under the gums between the gingiva (skin) and the bone structure that supports the teeth. That small bit if real estate is critical to keeping your own teeth. Typically an exam is also done to check for problems like decay, & to spot for oral cancer in the mouth, neck glands, & head cavity of which your dentist & hygienist are specialists. Report
I use Baking Soda to help keep mine white! It works well for me. Report
Great tips Report
Good article. Report
I think baking soda once or twice a week is ok for whitening teeth. Report
Great ideas! Thank you! Report
Might actually take my dentist up on his offer for whitening next time I'm at the office. Report
Thank you for being so thorough in this article! I hadn't considered how teeth can become discolored from the interior as well as from exterior factors. Most of the teeth whitening treatments that you can do at home, or at the dentist, are very effective, but many people can have bad reactions to the harsh chemicals. This is why it is so important that you consult your dentist about the best way to remove stains.
Daelin | http://www.northr
dentistry.html Report
Using a straw is a great way to avoid damage and stains if you're set on having your coffee or soda. For me, I stopped drinking coffee for multiple reasons and I've just felt better overall since I quit. My teeth are looking much better as well! Thanks for the advice.

Does natural ways of whitening really help? I had been doing it for over a month on a regular basis but didn't see any positive result. Then finally i had to see a Dentist Mumbai and treated there for whitening. Am glad as i can flaunt my smile unlike before after all it is the smile that tells about ones personality :) Report
My teeth are so yellow, I don't even like to smile anymore. I want to get them whitened so that I can love my smile again. I'm thinking it will be easier to just go in and get them whitened, and then try to keep it up. http://www.afdent
metic-dentistry-faq Report
There is NOTHING more attractive than a perfect, white smile! Clean, pearly white teeth show that you like to take care of yourself, that you LOVE yourself! It is pretty much standard to have straight sparkling teeth now-a-days for us young people! Report


About The Author

Leanne Beattie
Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.