Your smile is often your first impression when meeting someone for the first time. Most people have a regular dental hygiene regimen, but basic brushing twice a day doesn't mean your teeth will stay white. Although yellowing is a natural process of teeth, many of us would like to slow down that process or otherwise try to brighten, whiten, and rejuvenate the look of our smile. Luckily,
Why do teeth stain? As mentioned above, the yellowing of teeth is a natural reaction to aging and consuming colored foods and liquids. As you get older, the enamel covering your teeth becomes thinner. This makes the darker, more blood-rich tissue called dentin more easily visible under your enamel, causing your teeth to look less white. Further, many foods and drinks that the average person consumes regularly contain acids and staining substances that continuously build up on teeth and result in unfavorable discoloration.
The first step to whitening your teeth is actually to understand what exactly it is that is staining them. Coffee, tea, and wine are notorious for staining teeth, and the reason behind this is that they all contain a substance known as tannic acid. Juices, beer, and several kinds of fruits also contain tannins that are detrimental to white teeth. Fortunately, this doesn't mean you have to completely stop consuming all of your favorite tannic acid-containing treats by brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth with water immediately afterwards, you can virtually eliminate any of the acids that are left on your teeth. Another great way to avoid exposure to tannins is to only drink dark-colored liquids through a straw, which will minimize the chance of any of their stain-causing ingredients touching your front teeth.
There are a few other ways teeth can become stained. A common factor in teeth-yellowing is cigarette smoking, which almost inevitably leads to tobacco stains. Although the most obvious route of prevention in this case is to quit smoking, it has been proven that attentive oral hygiene and using products specific to smokers is an effective way to reduce discoloration. There are also some medications out there that can cause enamel darkening, but unfortunately this is usually a different type of discoloration and is more difficult to eliminate. For medication-related staining problems, it is best to consult with your dentist and see if you can set up an appointment for professional bleaching.
Now that you know what can cause stains, it's time to learn about how to get rid of them.
There are a variety of do-it-yourself yellowing cures and an assortment of different products available in stores that all claim they can help you reach your desired tooth-whitening goal, and the vast majority of them call for two very effective substances: hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.
Peroxide is an active ingredient in many whitening gels, creams, strips and toothpastes. The nature of hydrogen peroxide is to get into very fine areas of the tooth and work to break down molecules that cause discoloration. In case you were wondering, the expensive products in stores are, indeed, using the same hydrogen peroxide as is sold in opaque brown bottles for minor cuts and abrasions. Using that same hydrogen peroxide as a tooth-whitening mouthwash is a completely safe and effective way to whiten your teeth, and most bottles actually have rinsing directions somewhere on the label. If you are planning to use peroxide as part of your oral care regimen, keep in mind that only the bottles containing 3% of peroxide are proven as safe for oral use, and even then you should dilute whatever amount you use with water when rinsing your mouth.
Baking soda is also very effective when it comes to tooth-whitening, although it does not have any natural whitening chemicals. This is because baking soda works as a mild but impressive abrasive and works to rub away surface stains or residual food particles left on teeth. Many whitening toothpastes utilize baking soda for these very same scrubbing characteristics. There are many products on the market that can effectually brighten and whiten your teeth, but they can be expensive, complicated, or messy to use. That's why it's a good idea to look at the ingredients used, such as peroxide and baking soda, and consider whether you can do the job yourself at home.
Although tooth whitening in any form is generally a safe process, it is important to first consult your dentist if you have any questions or concerns. People with especially sensitive teeth may not be able to choose a do-it-yourself method without irritating their gums or causing some further sensitivity, so when in doubt, get a professional's advice.
Dr. Michael Szikman, a graduate of McGill University, began practicing dentistry in Montreal, Canada in 1968. Ten years later, he relocated to Atlanta and began practicing near Cumberland Mall. The practice has grown from one dentist, one dental hygienist, and three staff members to three dentists, three hygienists, and 10 support staff personnel. He is a member of the ADA, GDA, Academy of Computerized Dentistry, and Academy of General Dentistry.