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Treatments for Whiter Teeth and a Brighter Smile

Reviewed on 5/3/2016

Want Brighter, Whiter Teeth?

Close up of woman's smile with white teeth.

Gray or yellowish teeth are causing you not to smile? As you age, consuming certain foods and drinks can stain your teeth. Avoiding some things and applying special agents to your teeth may begin to restore the teeth’s whitish luster (and smile). The following slides offer some suggestions that may help restore your sparkling smile.

Do-It-Yourself Teeth Whitening

Woman applying tooth whitener to gum shield.

Superficial tooth stains can often be removed or reduced by using over-the-counter items such as toothpaste with whiteners, whitener strips, and other kits. In general, the major components of stain removers are mild bleach and abrasives in toothpaste.

Tooth-Whitening Kits

Woman applying a bleaching gel to her teeth.

Most home tooth whitening kits contain carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals may help remove superficial and some deeper discolorations. Depending on the kit, the compounds are either brushed on with a toothbrush or the compounds are in gel form that is put into upper and lower teeth molds, placed over the teeth, and kept in the mouth for about 45 minutes although times may vary.

Home Whitening Strips

Young woman using a teeth whitening strip.

Whitening strips usually contain about a 5% hydrogen peroxide impregnated strip of polyethylene that people can apply to teeth at home. They are usually worn for a few minutes a day for about a week.

Whitening Toothpastes

Woman brushing teeth with electric toothbrush.

Most regular toothpastes, gels, and liquids may remove some stains, but most do not contain the bleaches mentioned above, so they may have little or no effect in making your teeth whiter.

Home Remedies for Whiter Teeth

Woman biting into a red apple

Baking soda, sometimes mixed with lemon juice, has been claimed by many to help whiten teeth. Saliva flow and the scrubbing action of foods like apples, pears, and carrots also help to keep teeth white. Strawberries are considered to contain both astringents that remove stains and vitamin C that may remove plaque. Sugarless gum helps stimulate saliva to wash teeth and neutralize acids in foods. All off these are considered “home remedies” to get whiter teeth.

Dental Work and Tooth Whitening

Man with crowns having teeth cleaned by dentist.

Be careful with tooth whiteners if you have had some types of dental work such as crowns, bonding, veneers, fillings, tooth implants, or bridges. Whiteners work on natural teeth but not on other manufactured or altered teeth. Consequently, using whiteners could result in some teeth becoming whiter but not matching well with dental work done on other teeth.

Preventing Teeth Stains

Young woman with drink, straw between teeth.

Tooth enamel, the outer whitish layer covering teeth, wears away as we age; underneath the enamel is dentin that is more yellowish. So as you age, eating foods and drinking fluids that attack and discolor or stain enamel (see following slides) may cause dentin to be exposed. By eating and drinking non-staining foods and fluids and by using whiteners carefully, whitening treatment may last about a year. However, people can overdo whitening. Using whiteners too much, too often, or that are too concentrated can cause teeth to look translucent with a resulting bluish or blue-gray coloration.

To Keep Teeth White, Don't Smoke

Close-up of two cigarette butts and ashes.

One of the most common and worst compounds that stains and discolors teeth is tobacco. Brownish streaks and stains along with yellowing can occur rapidly with smoking (and chewing) tobacco. Tobacco products also increase the risk for many types of cancer and contribute to bad breath and gum disease.

Beverages That Cause Teeth Stains

Cup of black coffee, close-up.

Common beverages that cause tooth stains and discolorations are coffee, tea, dark-colored sodas, and many fruit juices, especially the darker-colored ones. A rule of thumb: If a beverage (or food) can stain a white T-shirt, it can likely cause tooth stains, too.

Other Drinks That Cause Teeth Stains

Red wine being poured into glass, close-up.

Some drinks that may be relatively good for you may not be so good for your teeth in terms of staining them. Red wine (yes, only one glass, please), cranberry juice, and grape juice are very good at staining teeth. So should you not drink these beverages? The answer is no, but you should remember to rinse out your mouth and brush your teeth well after drinking these fluids. Remember the previous slide about staining a T-shirt? If you spill staining beverages over your white T-shirt, the best way to prevent it from staining is to wash it with water and to scrub it with mild cleaners. The same is true for your teeth; rinse and brush before the stain is set.

Foods That Stain Teeth

Blueberries, blackberries and currants in a bowl.

The previous slide discussed some beverages that are good for you, but may stain teeth. This slide presents some foods that are excellent for your health but can stain your teeth; these include blueberries, blackberries, and currants. No, don’t stop eating these items. Just remember to wash out your mouth and brush your teeth immediately after eating a meal that includes such foods to protect your teeth from staining (remember the T-shirt staining rule of thumb presented previously).

Are Sports Drinks Bad for Teeth?

Man drinking sports drink from squeeze bottle.

Sweetened drinks are not good for your teeth. Other, acidic drinks like lemonade may erode enamel over time. Sipping these drinks exposes the tooth surfaces to enamel-eroding substances. If you do indulge in these drinks, it's best to remember the T-shirt rule of thumb: Rinse with water and brush the area to reduce or stop staining.

Medications That Can Stain Teeth

Young woman gargling with blue mouthwash.

Other compounds beside foods and drinks can stain your teeth. A list of some of these substances includes:

  • Mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride
  • Tetracycline (causes gray teeth in developing teeth)
  • Iron-containing medications
  • Fluoride (usually an excess may cause tooth discoloration)
  • Some antihistamines, antipsychotics, and high blood pressure medications

In some patients, the teeth are so stained that whitening methods do not help. If you have teeth that do not respond to whitening, see your dentist for other options such as bonding (covering the tooth with a whitish-colored material).

Daily Maintenance Can Help

Man cleaning his teeth with dental floss.

Daily brushing of teeth, along with rinsing and flossing (removing substances trapped between teeth with dental floss) is good; brushing rinsing and flossing twice a day is better. But, doing all three after meals and snacks is best for daily maintenance of teeth. Although some dental experts suggest that electric and sonic toothbrushes are better than a manual toothbrush, the manual toothbrush, when used properly, can do a good job of keeping your teeth clean and white.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

Dental patient's mouth being inspected with mirror.

Visit your dentist regularly. Many U.S. dentists suggest that 6-month checkups along with a cleaning done by a professional dental caregiver will help people maintain a relatively stain-free or stain-reduced set of teeth. Good dental care should allow most people to show their "pearly whites" when they smile.

Treatments for Whiter Teeth and a Brighter Smile

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