Some people say that a smile is worth a thousand words. It can be our armor as we venture out into the world and is often the first thing people notice in a first impression.
So much so that more than 80% of Americans consider healthy teeth a key indicator of success in life. And, with good reason. Those who practice good oral hygiene are more likely to ward off infections like gum inflammation and gingivitis, as well as long-term illnesses like lung disease.
They’re far more likely to experience fresh breath and enjoy a higher quality of life, too. After years of exposing your teeth to staining food and beverages, however, you may now be noticing your teeth’s white color has begun to fade.
Or, maybe you’re just looking for a little extra shine before a big job interview or first day. Here are the top eight tips for both getting your teeth gleaming white and keeping them that way for years to come.
1. Schedule a dental cleaning
Certain foods and drinks can stain our enamel, or the outermost layer of our teeth. In addition, plaque can build up between our gums and on our teeth, giving them a yellow appearance. An easy way to strip away years of buildup is to schedule a dental cleaning with a professional. This is perhaps the most thorough and comprehensive way to get a whiter smile in a short amount of time. Using a small mirror, your dental hygienist will use a scalar to remove plaque and tartar around your gum line and in between your teeth. They will also remove surface stains, giving your teeth a whiter appearance. The dental hygienist will then use a high-powered tooth brush to polish your teeth to brighten and smooth the enamel. The smoother your teeth are, the less likely they’ll pick up stains. Lastly, you’ll receive a fluoride treatment. Fluoride is used as a protectant for your teeth to help fight against cavities and keep teeth stain-free. Plus, a professional cleaning will usually make at-home and over-the-counter whitening solutions more effective, as smooth, stain-free teeth are far more receptive to gel treatments. It is always a good idea to seek professional treatment before conducting your own teeth-whitening.
2. Do a natural, at-home cleaning
If you can’t make it to a dentist or are looking for a quick solution for a night out, there are several time-tested, at-home treatments you can do. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples or easy to find at your local drugstore. It’s important to note, however, that these methods are not proven and you should always consult your doctor or dentist before putting any treatment in your mouth.
Oil-pulling is a centuries-old, traditional Indian folk remedy for whitening your teeth and improving your overall dental health. It involves swishing oil around the mouth, just like mouthwash. To do this, put a teaspoon of oil in your mouth and swish it around for 15-20 minutes. Though any type of oil should work, extra-virgin coconut oil has been a popular choice that has showed great results for many. The oil will strip away harmful, staining bacteria from your mouth and dissolve it, leaving you with less plaque and brighter teeth.
- Use activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is a fine-grain, odorless powder made from heating up charcoal. It has a variety of toxin-absorbing properties and is used for a wide range of health-related treatments. It is extremely absorbent, binding to molecules and atoms and dissolving these tough substances. This same process is what happens when the activated charcoal binds to the enamel on your teeth, specifically to the rough, plaque-stained surface spots. When left on long enough, the activated charcoal will strip away gritty stains and food plaque, leaving you with a smoother, whiter smile. Activated charcoal is safe to ingest, but you should apply it gently to your teeth so as not to chip or damage them from any abrasiveness. You can usually buy activated charcoal at your local drug store in mineral form. To use, crush 1-2 mineral tablets into a powder and combine it with water to make a gritty paste. Then, apply the paste directly onto your teeth by dabbing gently, and leave it on for three minutes, giving it time to bind with your teeth’s surface stains. Lastly, thoroughly rinse your mouth out several times before giving your teeth a good brush.
- Brush with baking soda
Similarly to activated charcoal, baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, can effectively remove enamel stains and whiten your teeth. And, it’s fairly inexpensive. Baking soda has a salty taste, and its alkalinity helps to eliminate tooth discoloration and plaque. You can either add baking soda to water and form a paste, or add a small amount to a toothpaste you already use. Baking soda can also rebalance the acid levels in your mouth and eliminate bacteria, giving you fresher breath.
- Kaolin clay
Also called China clay, kaolin clay is popular as a skin care product. But, it is also packed with minerals and vitamins that may help smooth and polish teeth and whiten your enamel. It is also been hailed as a great alternative toothpaste for those with extreme tooth sensitivity.
3. Eat naturally teeth-whitening foods
Incorporating more crunchy vegetables and fruits like apples, cucumbers and carrots into your diet can stimulate healthy saliva to cleanse your mouth and teeth. These foods are natural stain removers and are also part of a key healthy diet. Milk and yogurt are also calcium-rich foods that will help fight acid and bacteria that decay your teeth. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help deter against cravings and promote saliva. Overall, aim to also drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, especially after a meal. Water helps to wash away food particles and keep your teeth and gums hydrated.
4. Try a custom, teeth-whitening tray
Teeth-whitening trays are becoming more and more popular for their accessibility and positive product reviews. Many independent dental companies sell them, but they are also available on Amazon and at many local drugstores. Over-the-counter teeth trays, or “bleaching” trays, are made with flexible material that molds to your teeth and fits in in your mouth snuggly. Many are filled with a peroxide-based substance for whitening, but others come with a syringe of whitening gel that you can dispense into the tray. Most of these types of systems come with a full set of disposable trays to be used twice per day. If you’re looking for a custom dental tray that fits over your teeth perfectly, seeing a dental hygienist may be your best bet. Teeth-whitening trays usually have a longer applications process and you may have to wear it for hours at a time and possibly overnight to see strong results. Although teeth-whitening trays may be slightly more expensive than at-home solutions, many have reported seeing years of tough stains lifted overnight. This also includes options for the best teeth whitening kits.
5. Avoid teeth-staining food, drinks and bad habits
You should always avoid teeth-staining food and drinks directly before and after a dental cleaning or whitening treatment. But in the meantime, limit your exposure to foods like red berries and beetroot and drinks like tea, coffee and red wine. These all cling to your teeth, creating plaque build-up that is hard to remove with brushing alone. Acidic foods like lemon, tomato-based sauces and balsamic vinegar can also all lead to enamel stains and discoloration. If you’re going to drink soda or juice, try to use a straw so the liquid doesn’t wash over your teeth. When possible, try substituting a certain food or drink you consume a lot that may be wearing your enamel. A cup of light herbal tea, for example, is far less acidic than a normal cup of tea.
You should also aim to limit your sugar intake. A diet high in sugar leads to harmful bacteria that decay your enamel, cause cavities and can lead to gingivitis. After eating or drinking something high in sugar, like cola, try to brush and floss your teeth immediately after. Make sure you’re also getting plenty of calcium, whether that be through your diet or extra supplements. Calcium supports strengthening your enamel and prevents against yellow discoloration and erosion. Some calcium-rich foods to try include yogurt, soybeans and spinach. Lastly, aim to quit or significantly cut back smoking. Not only is smoking bad for your overall health, tobacco can stain your teeth yellow or brown and severely damage your gums. Both your white teeth and your body will thank you by throwing the pack away.
6. Understand your teeth structure
We all have a different teeth makeup based on a variety of factors, like genetics, age and lifestyle. No two smiles are the same. You should always consult a dentist to perform a physical exam on your teeth and gums before undergoing any whitening treatments. The dentist will look around your mouth and gums for any issues, like gingivitis or gum inflammation, or small concerns like cavities. It is extremely important to detect and amend teeth damage as soon as possible to prevent from any long-term diseases.
If you avoid piping hot or icy cold drinks because they make your teeth hurt, you could have tooth sensitivity. Teeth become sensitive when the enamel has worn down so much that pain-causing nerve endings become exposed. It may also be prudent to consult your dentist to understand what exactly is causing your teeth to be extra sensitive. It could be that you’re brushing too hard, causing your enamel to decay faster. Instead, opt for a soft-bristled tooth brush and gently work your teeth from side-to-side at a 45 degree angle. This will keep enamel strong and healthy. Electric toothbrushes are also great tools to make brushing easier and remove plaque more effectively.
7. Use hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a mild antiseptic that can be used as an effective teeth whitening treatment after a dental cleaning. You can usually buy diluted hydrogen peroxide bottles at your local drugstore, but chances are you already have it in your bathroom! You can either swish hydrogen peroxide around your mouth or mix it with baking soda to form a paste directly applied to your teeth.
For a hydrogen peroxide rinse, mix equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide into a cup, and then swish this around your mouth for 30 seconds to a minute. If at any point you feel discomfort or a burning sensation, spit out the solution immediately and try not to swallow any of the mixture. To use hydrogen peroxide as a paste, mix it with a small amount of baking soda until it becomes thick. Then, directly apply it to your teeth with a toothbrush and leave it on for a few minutes before thoroughly rinsing. Do not use this as a daily solution; too much hydrogen peroxide can have the opposite effect and damage your enamel permanently.
8. Practice good dental hygiene
Overall, never underestimate the value of a regimented, nightly brushing and flossing routine. Keeping your mouth clean and bacteria-free is just as crucial as keeping your body moving and in-shape. Dentists advise following the 2/2 rule. Brush your teeth for two minutes, twice a day. Every time you brush, clean the inner, outer and chewing sides of your mouth thoroughly. You should also always brush your tongue. Our tongues are covered in bacteria and can’t be cleaned by rinsing alone. It may also be helpful to add in an antiseptic mouthwash with fluoride or hydrogen peroxide for a deeper clean and lasting fresh breath.
By repeating this routine daily, your teeth will stay in great shape in between your dental cleanings. Avoid clenching your jaw and if you grind your teeth during the night, a night-guard may be a great way to protect your teeth. With these small steps, you’ll already be closer to a brighter, whiter smile than before!