Everyone wants to know the secret tricks of how to whiten teeth. Bright, yellow-free tusks have been one of the most universally aspirational ideals for ages, and if anyone ever tells you that they’re 100% satisfied with their smile, you can bet your ass that they’re either lying to you, lying to themselves, or both. The good news is that there are distinct factors that lead to discoloration, and ruling them out early can keep your teeth brilliant for a long time. Most people get to these tricks too late, long after the damage has been done.
Get a head start on warding off stains with the follow dentist-approved tips. Read on to learn what products to use, what habits to make (and break), and even DIY methods for how to whiten teeth.
1. Regular Dental Appointments
Before you go out and buy a pack of Whitestrips or set up an appointment for hyper-whitening with your local dentist, make sure everything else is taken care of, health-wise. “You want to ascertain that there’s no underlying disease before you do a program of whitening, and you also want to make sure you have a thorough cleaning so you can get the best benefits,” says dentist Dr. Jeanne Strathearn. In other words, you want to be working with as white a canvas as you can. And, duh, visit your dentist at least twice a year.
2. Avoid Known Stain Causers
You probably know that coffee and red wine stain teeth, but they’re certainly not the only culprits that can leave your teeth looking less than stellar. There are plenty of other foods and drinks that can stain your teeth, including:
- white wine
- barbecue sauce
- green tea
- black tea
- sugary treats
- balsamic vinegar
All of these foods or drinks cause or contribute to extrinsic stains. The good news is that extrinsic stains can usually be removed or at least improved, explains Dr. Strathearn. (Other stains—permanent ones—are called intrinsic stains, and can be the result of taking antibiotics when your teeth were developing as a kid. Those are much harder to deal with.)
If you can’t imagine giving up your daily coffee or nightly glass of wine, however, just make sure to rinse with water within 30 minutes of consumption. Rinsing with water helps wash away the offending liquid and lessen the likelihood of a stain. Rinsing is better than brushing, because brushing so soon after drinking or eating a stain-causer can make a situation worse, since at that point you’ll be scrubbing the food or drink’s enamel-eroding acid right into the teeth.
3. Consume Certain Foods
There are foods that can actually brighten your teeth. Fight stains and improve overall oral health by munching on the following:
- Apples. Apples improve your gum health and stimulate saliva production, which helps to rinse away stains.
- Cheese, milk and yogurt. Rich in calcium, all of these help to strengthen teeth enamel and appearance.
- Nuts, celery, broccoli and carrots. The abrasive and coarse abrasive texture of these foods scrubs off stains.
- Raw onions. The sulfur found in raw onions stops plaque from forming.
- Strawberries. The malic acid found in strawberries naturally removes surface stains lurking on your teeth.
4. Brush and Floss Daily
Dr. Strathearn says you should be brushing and flossing daily. “You want to be careful not to scrub away enamel at the gum line. You want to go below the gum line when you floss—between the gum and the tooth. That’s where people are either too aggressive or not aggressive enough.” Hardly groundbreaking information, we know, but diligence is the key.
5. Invest in an Electric Toothbrush
Thanks to their vibrating heads, electric toothbrushes are able to remove more stains than a standard toothbrush. The Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush can get your teeth a full shade whiter in just one week and improve gum health in two weeks. This charged-up brush is your best bet for scrubbing off surface stains, plus it comes in a sleek black color.
6. Take Good Care of Your Gums
Gums are the backdrop for your teeth, and if you’re suffering from gingivitis (characterized by red, bleeding, receding or puffy gums), it can make your whole smile look unhealthy. Taking care of your gums lets your white teeth take center stage. Make sure to brush and floss twice a day. Use soft bristles rather than hard ones, as hard brushes can be too abrasive for sensitive gums and cause them to recede further. Brush gently, but thoroughly.
Not only will healthy gums allow your teeth to shine bright, it’ll be better for your overall dental health. If you neglect your gums, it can actually lead to your teeth falling out — and at that point, the whiteness of your teeth will be the least of your concerns.
7. Use Whitening Toothpastes
How does whitening toothpastes work to whiten teeth? By employing polishers and abrasives, which buff away dark spots, plus gentle chemical bleaching agents.
Whitening toothpastes are by far the most universally used form of whitening, and for good reason. You can easily pick up a tube for a five-spot, though, of course, you can upgrade to more expensive options. Sure, you won’t all of a sudden be immediately blessed with perfect chompers, but it’ll help.
8. Apply Whitening Strips
“They do work, they’re effective. We often recommend that, if patients want to try something in an inexpensive way before deciding on another treatment,” says Dr. Strathearn. Perhaps reach for the Whitestrips the week before a big job interview, a first date, or a wedding.
As opposed to toothpastes, whitening strips work largely as a result of whitening chemicals, specifically peroxides and bleaches. These chemicals are, as you would expect, on two plastic strips, one for your top set of teeth and another for your bottom, and while they’re affixed, the whitening chemicals make their way into your teeth and remove extrinsic stains.
They’re easy as hell. Seriously, all you need to do is slap them on, wait the recommended amount of time, then take them off. Plus, they’re effective; it’ll only take a few days of use for your teeth to look noticeably whiter.
“These are inexpensive and very effective. I’ve seen really good results,” says cosmetic dentist Dr. Kevin Sands, who has worked on the smiles of Robert Downey Jr., Joe Manganiello, and the Kardashian clan, among others.
Remember, however, you’re working with chemicals when you use whitening strips. And the trouble with chemicals is, well, they’re chemicals. Meaning that they can be kind of troublesome if you don’t pay close attention. For example, some strips are made with chlorine dioxide, a chemical that can actually eat away at enamel if you leave it on too long. There’s also the issue of reach; often, strips will cover only the bottom half of the teeth, effectively leaving along the gumline just as yellow as it started off. Finally, there’s the problem of increased sensitivity post-strip. Not at all ideal.
9. Try Whitening Gel Trays
Take everything we said about tooth whitening strips, chemicals and all, and repeat it sans the strips. Instead, gels are either brushed onto the teeth, or squeezed into a jaw-shaped tray, which you’ll then affix onto your teeth for the recommended time. After the designated time has passed, often overnight, you’ll then either brush away the gel or remove the tray.
The biggest benefit of whitening gels is that they’re so thorough. You apply the gels either directly to the teeth or in excess to the tray, and that means that all the little nooks and crannies of your teeth get whitened, from the tips to the tops. Also, the trays stay in place a bit better than the strips, since there’s no adhesive that can come unstuck.
As with whitening strips, however, you’re working with chemicals when you use whitening gels. Chemicals, man. Can whiten with ‘em, can’t whiten without ‘em.
10. Consider Whitening at the Dentist’s Office
The general gist goes like this: After a cheek retractor is put in your mouth, to keep your skin away from your teeth, a whitening gel containing high percentages of hydrogen peroxide is applied to your teeth. It’s left on for anywhere between 15 minutes to half an hour, washed away thoroughly, then reapplied one or more times until the desired result is acquired. Sometimes, they’ll shine a bright light on your teeth to speed along the process.
It’s always a good idea to have someone who knows what they’re doing in charge, and with in-office tooth whitening, you’ve got professional supervision. Also, results are instantaneous, so you don’t have to wait days or weeks to see whitening start to take shape.
The only downside to whitening in-office is the price. It can get you up to eight shades whiter in one visit, but it doesn’t come cheap, to say the least: A single session costs up to $650. Results aren’t always consistent either, depending on age, type of stains, and a number of other factors. Oh, and also you’ve got to watch out for what you eat directly after, which is doable, but a pain.
11. Brush with Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide
As a known bacteria fighter, baking soda can not only clean your mouth, but also help you fight stains. Here’s how to whiten teeth with baking soda: Combine one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with two tablespoons of baking soda for the ultimate stain-fighting mixture. Brush with the paste for two minutes. The hydrogen peroxide will lighten stains as the baking soda scrubs them away. Not only does this method work, it’s super affordable. You can pick up both ingredients for less than five bucks. You will, however, have to whip up a fresh mixture each time you use the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, so it requires a little more prep than other at-home teeth-whitening methods.
12. Apply Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar
Create a mixture using a quarter tablespoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Brush your teeth with this mixture to fight stains. This is another really cost-effective DIY option, and chances are you already have the ingredients lying around your house. Note: You can’t repeat this treatment more than once a week, given the acidity of the lemon. Applying the mixture too frequently can wear down the enamel on your teeth.
13. Stop Smoking
In addition to all the harmful side effects of smoking, it the tar and tobacco found in nicotine rapidly yellows smokers’ teeth. So, if for no other reason than vanity, do yourself a favor and stop lighting up. Not only will your teeth look better, your breath, heart and lungs will also be healthier.
14. Make Out (Yes, Really)
As if you need another reason to make out, studies show that kissing stimulates saliva production, which, incidentally, can help you fight stains. Other (less exciting) ways so stimulate saliva production include chomping on raw, fibrous fruits and veggies, as well as sucking on sugar-free candies and chewing sugar-free gum.
15. Rub Your Teeth with a Banana Peel or Orange Rind
Wondering how to whiten teeth with bananas? It sounds crazy, but thanks to the plentiful vitamins and minerals found in the skin of bananas and oranges, many people use the inside of peel and rinds to whiten their teeth. While we don’t know of any studies have proven the validity of this method, it certainly can’t hurt. Try it out by rubbing your teeth with the fruit casing. Wait ten minutes and follow up by brushing your teeth.
16. Make a Tooth Mask with Activated Charcoal
Some people brush with activated charcoal, but because this ingredient is soabrasive, dentists recommend that you use it as a mask rather than a toothpaste. Charcoal is highly absorbent and is able to effectively bond with surface stains, and then lift them away — it’s just as effective (and safer) to create a charcoal paste, apply it to your teeth, let it sit for three minutes, and then rinse it away. Make the paste by mixing together a half a tablespoon of activated charcoal with just enough water to make it paste-like (a quarter of tablespoon should do the trick).
17. Go Big or Go Home: Veneers
Dr. Sands estimates that 30-40 percent of red carpet smiles are actually veneers: “Two appointments and you’ve got a magazine cover smile,” he says. Veneers are the most extreme way to get blindingly white teeth, and they’re also the most expensive. Each veneer can cost up to $2,500. Plus, once you get veneers, there’s no going back. The process involves grinding down your own teeth in order to cap them with the veneers. So do whatever you can to protect and care for your own teeth, and you’ll render veneers unnecessary.