Secrets to Brighter, Whiter Teeth

Close up of woman's smile with white teeth.

Want Brighter, Whiter 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.

Woman applying tooth whitener to gum shield.

Do-It-Yourself Teeth Whitening

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.

Woman applying a bleaching gel to her teeth.

Tooth-Whitening Kits

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.

Young woman using a teeth whitening strip.

Home Whitening Strips

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.

Woman brushing teeth with electric toothbrush.

Whitening Toothpastes

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.

Woman biting into a red apple

Home Remedies for Whiter Teeth

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.

Man with crowns having teeth cleaned by dentist.

Dental Work and Tooth Whitening

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.

Young woman with drink, straw between teeth.

Preventing Teeth Stains

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.

Close-up of two cigarette butts and ashes.

To Keep Teeth White, Don't Smoke

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.

Cup of black coffee, close-up.

Beverages That Cause Teeth Stains

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.

Red wine being poured into glass, close-up.

Other Drinks That Cause Teeth Stains

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.

Blueberries, blackberries and currants in a bowl.

Foods That Stain Teeth

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).

Man drinking sports drink from squeeze bottle.

Are Sports Drinks Bad for Teeth?

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.

Young woman gargling with blue mouthwash.

Medications That Can Stain Teeth

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).

Man cleaning his teeth with dental floss.

Daily Maintenance Can Help

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.

Dental patient's mouth being inspected with mirror.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

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.

Sources:

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

  1. Stefano Oppo / Photonica / Getty Images
  2. Image Source / Getty Images
  3. Phanie / Photo Researchers, Inc.
  4. Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc / Getty Images
  5. Stockbyte / Getty Images
  6. Glowimages / Getty Images
  7. Keith Brofsky  / Photodisc / Getty Images
  8. Soren Hald / Taxi / Getty Images
  9. iStockphoto
  10. iStockphoto
  11. iStockphoto
  12. iStockphoto
  13. iStockphoto
  14. iStockphoto
  15. iStockphoto
  16. iStockphoto

REFERENCES:

  • AARP Bulletin: "Foods That Whiten Teeth Naturally"
  • American Dental Association: "Toothbrushes"
  • Medscape: "Tooth Discoloration Treatment & Management"
WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information