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.