Are you one of the growing Crowd of people looking to whiten your teeth at home? You are not alone!
“Smile, say ‘Cheese!’” Today, cameras are an added and assumed appendage to the lives of Americans through smartphones and tablets and the like. These lives are documented through photos no longer hidden away in scrapbooks but posted for a watching world to view and judge.
Recognizing this reality, almost 18 percent of Americans admit to intentionally concealing their teeth in photographs. Further supporting evidence of a quest for a brilliant smile is the fact that Americans spend $1.4 billion on over-the-counter teeth whitening products per year.
What is the truth behind tooth health and whitening?
To begin, a bit of tooth anatomy aids in understanding. The tooth consists of four tissues. The enamel is the outer covering of the tooth which is strong, white and protects the tooth. Dentin is a hard, yellow substance which supports the enamel and carries nerves. The center of the tooth referred to as the pulp encompasses blood and lymph vessels. Finally, the cementum covers the root of the tooth.
Another clarification is the use of the terms whitening and bleaching. In many instances, the terms are used synonymously. Technically, whitening refers to any procedure or product that removes debris from teeth.
On the other hand, bleaching agents must contain a bleach such as a hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Bleaching can brighten teeth beyond their natural shade. I personally prefer using whitening strips instead of hydrogen peroxide.
Natural tooth color varies considerably from person to person. Not all humans begin with an equal brightness of smile. Teeth yellowing may be due to genetics, inherited diseases that affect enamel, age, medications, trauma to a tooth, foods and drinks consumed, and oral hygiene practices.
Some causes of tooth discoloration cannot be corrected. Stains due to medications or discoloration due to injury do not respond well to treatments. Also, bleaching is not effective on caps, crowns, veneers or fillings. Yellow teeth tend to bleach well. However, brown teeth may not respond well to whitening attempts, and gray teeth resist whitening efforts altogether. Some of these conditions require tooth restoration before whitening attempts.
There are factors which are more easily controlled. Food and drink can stain the enamel of the tooth causing discoloration. However, staining is not the primary factor in yellowing. The greatest culprits are foods and drinks that break down enamel and the weakening with the age of this tooth coating. In other words, tooth color is mostly determined by the enamel and dentin. Weak, broken down enamel reveals the yellow dentin beneath. Hence, this condition exposes yellow teeth. Using water flosser regularly can certainly help.
Understanding tooth anatomy clarifies how to treat yellowing teeth more efficiently. Addressing the two primary causes of yellowing teeth includes whitening the enamel that still exists and strengthen the enamel preventatively.
Brushing and flossing twice per day is vital for tooth health and contributes to whiter teeth. Also, twice-yearly dental cleanings by professional keeps teeth healthy and remove plaque that gives the smile a yellow appearance.
For coffee drinkers and smokers, cleanings should be increased to every three months to combat the effects of these habits. Brushing after meals or snacks can be inconvenient, but reap benefits against staining and enamel erosion.
Mini on-the-go toothbrushes such as Colgate Wisps are now available to make brushing away from home convenient and disposable.
Bleaching is not effective on stains occurring due to inadequate dental care. No whitening product (i.e. whitening toothpaste) undoes the damage of not taking care of the mouth. Healthy teeth produce the best results when applying any whitening treatment. Also, issues such as whitening material in an untreated cavity cause severe pain.
A healthy diet does the body good, and that includes the teeth. Consuming foods packed with nutrients for strong bones, teeth and gums goes a long way in promoting tooth health, including whiteness. Cheese, yogurt, almonds and leafy greens contain calcium, protein or both to build healthy tooth enamel.
Yogurt also supports gum health with the presence of probiotics. Apples, carrots and celery provide vitamins vital to gum health. Even more beneficial, these fibrous choices act as natural toothbrushes. Also, the mere action of eating these foods increases saliva which bathes teeth and rinses away bacteria and food particles.
On the contrary, certain foods attack tooth health and whiteness. Acidic foods wear on tooth enamel revealing yellow dentin. Foods to limit or avoid include sour candies, sugary foods, oranges, soda and even vitamin C tablets. A glass of milk or water and brushing teeth soon after consumption of these damaging foods limits erosive effects when not avoided.
Water tops the list of best drinks for tooth health. Juices and other sugary libations bathe teeth in sugar and promote decay. Drinks with a depth of color such as red wine, coke, tea and coffee stain enamel. If it stains a white table cloth, it will stain teeth. While not food, a steady diet of cigarettes also stains. Avoiding these drinks is ideal, however drinking them through a straw reduces harmful effects.
Natural Home Remedies/Whiten Your Teeth at Home
Home remedies for whitening teeth are a viable option. The low cost and availability of the ingredients make this alternative attractive. Also, the naturally occurring ingredients free from chemicals draw attention in a society that is ever more conscious of what goes in and on the body.
Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
Typically, these remedies mix a mildly abrasive agent to remove surface stains with a whitening agent. An alkaline product can also aid in balancing Ph or acidity in the mouth which contributes to enamel degradation. Baking soda and lemon juice paste combines the mild abrasion of baking soda and natural bleaching properties of lemon juice to return whiteness.
The simple process involves mixing several teaspoons of baking soda and enough fresh lemon juice to create a paste. A significant amount of paste is then applied to teeth with a toothbrush and left on for one minute before rinsing away. It is important not to leave the acidic lemon juice on longer as tooth enamel could be damaged.
Strawberry, Sale and Baking Soda
A strawberry, salt and baking soda scrub are another option. In this remedy, the salt and baking soda work as the abrasive agent. Strawberries add vitamin C, which breaks down plaque and malic acid which removes surface stains. The berries mashed into a pulp with a pinch of sea salt and a half teaspoon of baking soda completes the recipe. Applied with a toothbrush to dry teeth, this mixture sits on the teeth for five minutes before rinsing.
A coconut oil rinse called oil pulling is an old remedy that is seeing new popularity. Lauric acid in coconut oil combats bacteria found in plaque. Plaque gives teeth a yellow appearance. Therefore, coconut oil works to whiten teeth as well as benefits gum health and amazingly, freshen breath. Before brushing, approximately one tablespoon of coconut oil is placed in the mouth.
The oil is then pushed and pulled through and around the teeth for 10-15 minutes. Swishing proceeds spit, rinse and brush as normal.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar boasts gum cleaning and stain removing power. Consistent and persistent use has proven to be especially effective on coffee and nicotine stains. Brushing with apple cider vinegar followed by regular toothpaste or a good rinse results in white teeth that some users equate with professional cleaning. The caution in using this acid is not to overdo the treatment as it will wear enamel.
If mixing is still inconvenient, rubbing orange or lemon rinds, or strawberries on the teeth is known to produce results. Rinsing well after these treatments is vital to avoid erosion from the acid in these fruits. Erosion of enamel is the enemy of white teeth. Charcoal is popular for its detoxifying benefits. Mixed with water, charcoal becomes activated. Gently applied to tooth surfaces, left on for two minutes and rinsed, this substance carries the bacteria away and down the drain.
Decreased bacteria and plaque promote increased brightness.
While not entirely natural, hydrogen peroxide at three percent is often used as a remedy ingredient or mouth rinse. Peroxide whitens through oxidation. This inexpensive pharmacy product brightens and combats bacteria when added to natural concoctions, as a component of the mixture or simply swished in a half water, half peroxide solution after brushing.
Home remedies offer results at a low cost although there is daily time commitment. The products are often found in the pantry and application fits comfortably into the daily routine. Results, however, will not be overnight, if you are looking for brilliant whiteness. Rather, the impact will progress slowly and comes with a healthier mouth.
Over-the-counter products are also effective in whitening teeth. Pastes, pens, strips, trays and mouth rinses lift stains and provide a mild bleaching effect. The market offers many choices and requires personal research to determine the optimal results for individuals, but the options are plentiful.
The most fundamental option is whitening toothpaste and rinses that conveniently fit into the daily routine, provided regular dental hygiene is a part of that care. Pastes and rinses produce intermediate results and work well to maintain whiteness following a professional whitening treatment. Results require continuous use of the product and last as long as product use.
Colgate Optic White is one example that fairs well in reviews. For naturalists, products are available without the chemicals as well. For instance, Tom’s of Maine Natural Antiplaque Tartar Control & Whitening Toothpaste whitens with natural ingredients and flavorings.
Whitening strips applied to teeth use hydrogen peroxide to lift stains. Strips are simple to use and can be worn as other tasks are completed making them a time friendly option. However, issues arise around the slipping of the strips and splotchy results.
Some are used daily for a set period while others are a one-time use every several months. The expected outcome is whitening up to five shades and requires repeated application over time to maintain. On average, effects are two shades lighter. Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips with Advanced Seal Technology is one of the top whitening strip products.
Whitening light systems provide another at-home option. Whitening gel is painted on the surface of the front teeth. An LED light is inserted into or held in front of the mouth allowing the gel to react with the light and whiten teeth. The process can prove a bit tedious tethered to the light. Treatment runs about 30 minutes.
However, the one-time process can lighten teeth up to two shades with one being the average. Again, repeated courses over time maintain results.
The Go Smile Teeth Whitening System is a well-rated option in this category. This customized tray process of the dentist’s office is mimicked by companies such as Smile Brilliant that provide a kit requiring you to make upper and lower dental impressions at home. The prints are mailed back. Customized trays are then created. Whether in the dentist’s office or at home, customized trays give superior fit and results.
OTC trays can be purchased at pharmacies. This treatment works in a similar manner without the custom fit and a gel of less whitening strength. Plus White 5 Minute Speed Whitening System is one such product. Pharmacy versions of whitening trays can irritate and achieve lesser quality results than the professional versions.
At-home treatments as a whole are slower to reveal optimal results. To get dentist office results, two or three months of consistency and persistence may be required. Whitening strips and trays show signs of brighter teeth in approximately one week. If no visible brightness is apparent after two weeks, a dentist and stronger treatment are in order.
A before and after photo helps assess results rather than relying on visual memory. Realistic goals are essential to combat discouragement and over-treatment. The concern with OTC products is the missing piece of a professional. Caution and monitoring should be taken to ensure that gums are not irritated, cavities are addressed, and moderation is observed with optimal results.
With pharmacy products, this burden rests with the lay tooth whitener.
Dentists know teeth and have tried and trusted methods of whitening smiles. Unfortunately, this expertise comes with a price tag not often covered by insurance.
While the cost is reflective of the experience a dentist brings, there are benefits to the patient in having this wisdom on his or her side. Dentists can carefully monitor treatment to ensure tooth health and optimal whitening. While the topical agents used by dentists are harsh, dental precautions protect gums and surrounding tissues.
Adverse side effects can be treated with knowledge and expertise with the best interest of the patient in mind. Often brightening up to 10 shades is realized in one visit. Also, treatments applied in the dentist’s office have longer staying power.
Effects of whitening procedures completed in the office can last up to two years and can be touched up during routine cleanings. It is beneficial to weigh the cost of using various products to repeatedly whiten your teeth at home, with this longevity. At-home whitening trays can be molded by a dentist for customized, individualized treatment. With the trays, the dentist provides a concentrated bleaching gel.
The trays are worn for an hour or two per day either in the dark of night or light of day. The invisibility of the trays provides options that do not interfere with daily living. This product bridges the at-home and in-office treatment options. However, extra time spent in the dentist’s chair is not required to take advantage of this whitening opportunity.
Dentists use bleaching methods similar to OTC products but with greater concentration and strength. Therefore, the results are often magnified. The standard procedure involves painting a highly concentrated solution on the teeth while protecting the gums.
The time in the dental chair is approximately 45 minutes for a whiter smile. Light or laser may be used to enhance the effects of the gel solution. As mentioned, the results equate to a whiter smile for approximately two years.
While the overall opinion of professionals is that whiten your teeth at home is safe, any treatment runs the risk of being overdone. The wearing of enamel due to whitening products or infiltrating of the dentin by hydrogen peroxide leads to tooth sensitivity.
The product ingredients such as peroxide can potentially seep through the enamel and irritate the nerve. If sensitivity persists or gums discolor, a dental professional should be contacted. Burns to gums are another possible sign of over-treatment. Translucent, unnatural, even blue or blue-gray teeth can result from overly worn enamel from any at-home remedy or OTC product.
Root canals for tissues damaged by over-bleaching represent another possible consequence. Many consequences of the quest for the perfect smile are reversible however, a few are not. The results indicate wisdom in moderation. Talking with a dentist prior to pursuing any form of whitening treatment whether natural, OTC or professional is wise. You can never know too much about whiten your teeth at home!
Asking a dentist provides the most individualized and accurate information. Personal considerations such as decay and periodontal disease which cause yellowing are addressed in the dentist office. A dentist can correct underlying issues that hinder whitening treatments. Also, a dentist paints a realistic picture of the potential results of whitening based on a patient’s genetics, age, lifestyle, tooth health and other factors.
Classified as cosmetic, tooth whitening evades medical coverage. However, in-office and third-party financing may cover costs. Many dental offices offer in-house repayment plans and whitening promotions and specials may apply. Asking questions at the dental office reaps benefits in this area. Third party financing exists for qualified borrowers through banks and other lenders.
Medical financing companies such as Compassion Finance provide cosmetic dentistry loans. A dentist’s administrative team assists with these connections and application paperwork. Research to locate a qualified dentist or qualified products rests with the client.
Finding the best fit between client and whitening product or procedure can be tricky. Fortunately, information and options for teeth whitening abound to fit lifestyle, budget and desired outcomes. Ultimately, the truth remains that beauty exists in a confident smile, not just a white one. Find the best product for you and whiten your teeth at home!