Whiten Teeth for a Bright Smile

The other day I looked in the mirror and noticed my teeth had taken on a coffee colored hue. That was definitely not my ideal look. What happened to those pearly whites and what are my best options to whiten my teeth? This post shares the information I discovered and some of it may surprise you. It did me.

What besides coffee, tea, and purple Kool-Aid discolors teeth?

  • Age – As we age, teeth start showing the wear and tear from years of use and abuse. In addition, many medications often taken by older people can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth means there is a shortage of saliva. Saliva helps clean teeth and washes away the acids formed by bacteria in the mouth that erode tooth enamel. Enamel is nice and white, but as it thins over time, teeth can have a yellowish cast as the underlying dentin shows through.
  • Some medications – There are other medications that can stain your teeth besides those that dry your mouth according to Aalam Samsavar, the official cosmetic dentist for Mrs. Washington America and Mrs. Washington Globe Pageants. One, in particular, I found interesting was the acne drug, Minocycline which can permanently stain teeth. He has an excellent post on this topic which I suggest your read http://blogcritics.org/scitech/article/medications-can-discolor-your-teeth/.
  • Trauma – I had no idea that trauma could be involved in my teeth unless of course I knocked one out or chipped it. Not so, says my cosmetic dentist. Damage to the mouth can actually cause permanent tooth discoloration.
  • Tobacco – Yet another good reason to quit smoking. The superficial stains from smoking can be removed however, nicotine is known to cause gums to thin exposing the root of the tooth. Over time this can make your problems far worse.
  • Foods – We already know there are some foods that can cause the teeth to stain, but how about apples and potatoes? The malic acid in apples can erode enamel. The starch in potatoes and other starchy food are fodder for acid producing bacteria that reside in your mouth. The more refined or cooked the starchy food is, the more damage it can cause. As for apples, I’m not likely to give up eating apples anytime soon. However, I will make sure I eat a variety with lower malic acid such as the red delicious. I will avoid sour green apples (most of the time).
  • Poor dental hygiene – That’s kind of a big duh. If you let goo from the foods you eat accumulate on your teeth, they aren’t going to be nice and white. So, unless you favor green, gray or black teeth, take good care of your choppers.
  • Diseases and their treatments – Most disease related tooth discoloration happens when teeth are forming. Adult teeth have been known to discolor when radiation or chemotherapy treatment is used to treat head and neck malignancies. If you want to read more details see http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1076389-overview#aw2aab6b2b4. Warning: Some of the photographs may gross you out.
  • Genetics – Some lucky souls have thicker tooth enamel (whiter teeth) than others like me.
  • Fluoride – I didn’t stick fluoride up there with medicines even though it’s sometimes used as such. Excessive fluoride can lead to some really ugly looking teeth. The bad part is that the discoloration is permanent.
  • Dental materials – Some cavity filling materials that contain silver sulfide can darken teeth.

What are the options for the whitest teeth and brightest smile?

There are two basic types of options: the cheap ones and those that are expensive. Unfortunately, most intrinsic discoloration of teeth will need expensive options. Just in case you don’t know, intrinsic simply means the discoloration is internal to the tooth and cannot be removed by brushing or whitening treatments.


Tooth discoloration from coffee are termed extrinsic stains and are easily removed. Let’s take a look at the cheap options first and tackle those extrinsic stains.

Cheap options

  • Strawberries – When they are in season, the acid in strawberries whitens surface stains on teeth. Keep in mind that the acids in strawberries also erode tooth enamel and the sugar is fodder for the acid producing bacteria in your mouth. One of the five acids in strawberries is our old friend malic acid. You know, the same one that’s in apples. One way to use a strawberry to whiten your teeth is to cut off the end and rub on your teeth. Leave on for a minute or so and rinse. You can also crush the berry and apply.
  • Baking soda – Baking soda is an old standby for whitening teeth. It’s cheaper than strawberries, but does it work. Yep, it does, but it takes more time than other whiteners. However, it also helps to remove ugly plaque and that’s a very good thing. The downside of baking soda is that if used incorrectly it may be too abrasive. On its website, Arm and Hammer recommends dipping a damp toothbrush into the baking soda to clean teeth. However, on the Arm & Hammer box, there is no mention of using it on teeth. If you opt to use baking soda, be sure and use a soft toothbrush. I would use this occasionally on my teeth, but not as an everyday event.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Hydrogen peroxide is another cheap whitener. If you can stand the taste, mix the peroxide 50% with water and rinse with it. Though I hate the taste of this stuff, I have tried it and it works quite well. However, a mouthwash of any type doesn’t reach deep in the enamel to remove the stains as well as an applied stain remover like whitening strips or trays.
  • Toothpaste – Whitening toothpaste also works over time to whiten and brighten your teeth. However, not all kinds of toothpaste are created equal and some are abrasive so I did a little exploration. I discovered that most of the toothpaste that whitens teeth contain abrasives that sandpaper off enamel over extended use. If you want to know how to select the right toothpaste, check out Dr. Scott Frey’s great video on how to do this. http://www.freysmiles.com/blog/view/toothpaste-abrasiveness-low-abrasive-toothpastes
  • Whitening strips – Dr. Frey recommends Sheer White Whitening Strips because they are the least damaging to your teeth. The acids in whitening strips are the culprits which can erode the enamel on your teeth over time.
  • Trays – Trays are designed by your dentist for you to use at home to whiten your teeth. If you have sensitive teeth, be sure your dentist is aware.
  • Bleaching Treatments – These treatments are performed by your dentist in the office. Be aware that there may be negative side effects to a bleaching treatment such as gum irritation or tooth sensitivity. Discuss this with your dentist particularly if your teeth tend to be sensitive.

Now for the expensive options

These options become necessary when your teeth can not be whitened using superficial stain removers.

  • Bonding – this is a composite resin molded onto your teeth that will whiten or reshape them. The bonding lasts a long time; however, the resin can stain over time and be chipped anytime. The cost will vary depending on where you live. Here in Port Orchard, Washington a local cosmetic dentist, Dr. Chris Mueller told me he charged $550 for a bonding composite veneer.
  • Porcelain veneers – these are facings that are bonded onto stained teeth. Veneers can be used to reshape and lengthen teeth. Dr. Mueller charges $1100 a tooth for veneers. (Veneers in a qualified Mexican dental office is $399 a tooth.)
  • Dentures – The cheapest option is the one I like the least and that is replacing your teeth with dentures. However, there are those that choose this option when bonding or veneers are unaffordable.

Fortunately for me, I can whiten my teeth using a less expensive option. If that were not the case, I would first contact my local dental society to see what they might offer. My next step would be to find dental insurance that covered veneers. They’re out there, I checked. Another option I wouldn’t discount is contacting the nearest dental school to get a price. When I contacted the University Of Washington School Of Dentistry, the nice lady on the other end of the phone told me that as a general rule their prices are 20% – 40% lower than local dentists in Seattle charge. In your area, it may be different.

There, now you know everything I know about getting teeth as white as possible so you never have to cover them when you smile.

Now go have fun and relax.

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