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.
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.
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.
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.
Do Home Whitening Strips Damage Your Teeth?
Do you risk your dental health by using whitening strips? Whitening strips use peroxide to take the stains out of your teeth. Any form of bleaching can make your teeth sensitive, according to the American Dental Association, and that would include whitening strips. Whitening strips can also irritate gums, the ADA says, though this can be minimized by making sure to apply them properly. The ADA allows some whitening strip products to use their seal of endorsement, implying the organization considers this method safe and effective when used properly.
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.
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 of these are considered "home remedies" to get whiter teeth.
Oil pulling, a folk remedy from southern Asia, has become trendy with many who seek to whiten their teeth. The procedure entails swishing food oil back and forth between your teeth for anywhere from 1 minute up to 20 minutes or longer in some cases. Coconut oil is a popular choice, but in theory any food oil should work just as well. The question is whether any work at all. Although advocates of this alternative health practice may make wider health claims, let's investigate what the oral health experts say about oil pulling.
Although poorly researched, one study found an association between the practice and lipoid pneumonia, a condition that can develop when small amounts of oil are inhaled. Another found no difference between oil pulling and the standard disinfectant mouthwash chlorhexidine for killing microbes. The American Dental Association says there isn't enough reliable scientific evidence to show that oil pulling whitens teeth, or that it improves oral health in general. The ADA does not recommend the practice. Instead, it reminds patients to brush twice a day for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste and to floss once a day.
Activated charcoal pastes and powders have become popular choices for those seeking pearlier teeth. Is charcoal safe and effective for whitening teeth? One study compared toothpastes with activated charcoal to other whitening pastes. It found that charcoal was less effective than toothpastes with blue covarine, which deposits a thin, blue pigment that gives teeth a whiter appearance. Studying Malaysians who used a charcoal/salt mixture for brushing, researchers discovered distinct types of cavities in their mouths. They also found evidence of yellowing, possibly indicating the practice had scraped enamel off of teeth, revealing the yellow dentin beneath. The researcher concluded that charcoal and salt are "highly abrasive and injurious to both the hard and soft oral tissues." In a review of the scientific studies involving charcoal and oral health, another researcher concluded that there is a lack of large-scale, well-designed studies. The ADA does not recommend the practice.
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.
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.
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.
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 probably stain teeth, too.
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 avoid these beverages altogether? 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.
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).
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.
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 coloration 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 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. 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.
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- AARP Bulletin: "Foods That Whiten Teeth Naturally"
- American Dental Association: "Oral health topics: Whitening," "Toothbrushes"
- International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease: "Recurrent lipoid pneumonia associated with oil pulling."
- Journal of the American Dental Association: "Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: A literature review."
- Journal of Applied Oral Science: "Can a bleaching toothpaste containing Blue Covarine demonstrate the same bleaching as conventional techniques? An in vitro, randomized and blinded study," "Whitening toothpaste containing activated charcoal, blue covarine, hydrogen peroxide or microbeads: which one is the most effective?"
- Journal of Nihon University School of Dentistry: "Dental abrasion patterns in a selected group of Malaysians."
- Medscape: "Tooth Discoloration Treatment & Management"