The Best Tips and Products for Healthy, Beautiful Teeth
Believe it or not, a big, bright smile is reflective of more than just your oral health—dentists have been known to spot early warning signs of sickness elsewhere in the body, with poor oral hygiene being linked to heart disease and diabetes. Since oral health can be a key indicator of holistic wellbeing, experts recommend getting a professional cleaning at least twice a year to help buff away tartar, bacterial deposits, and external stains, as well as to check for cavities.
There are also a number of products that can help keep your teeth as white as possible in between visits. Newer at-home whitening treatments contain the same brightening agents—either hydrogen or carbamide peroxide—as professional treatments, just in lower doses, says New York City-based cosmetic dentist Michael Apa. One major difference between these and previous versions is that newer ones are enamel-safe, thanks to better delivery systems, including strips that won't seep and trays that won't cause overt sensitivity. "What you lose in strength, you can make up for in time," Apa says. So the key to success is consistency: Follow the products' instructions carefully—two weeks really does mean two weeks—and you'll be set to dazzle. To keep your teeth pristine, swish with water after eating or drinking anything highly pigmented, like berries, coffee, black tea, or red wine.
We spoke with leading dental experts to discover tips for keeping your teeth in tip-top shape. Here's their best advice on preserving that fresh-from-the-dentist gleam, common solutions for sensitive teeth and gums, and best practices to incorporate into your daily routine.
In-Office Teeth-Whitening Treatments
Apa says that not all discolorations can be bleached—according to the American Dental Association, grayish hues, bonded teeth, and tooth-colored fillings won't be whitened by a bleaching agent, whereas yellow and brown stains will lighten right up. If your smile is bleachable, ask your care provider about an in-office treatment like Luma-light or Zoom, which activates a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide with light wavelengths, making teeth up to 10 shades lighter.
The Best At-Home Whitening Treatments
When it comes to what you can do at home to whiten your teeth, most products rely on contact time to spruce up your smile. You don't need a fancy blue light to speed up the process; those devices merely dehydrate teeth, making them appear brighter for an hour or so, Apa says. Read on for some effective alternatives, including Martha's personal favorite.
"I love everything about the Linhart dental-care line, which was developed by expert dentists Jan and Zachary Linhart. Their products taste good and work nicely, and the tooth-whitener gel keeps my teeth sparkling clean," Martha says.
Linhart Tooth-Whitener Gel, $24,
Ready to wear hydrogen-peroxide trays are used 15 to 20 minutes daily for up to 10 days. These trays contain sensitivity-fighting potassium nitrate.
Opalescence Go 15 Percent Trays, $65,
Now ooze-free, these whitening strips are invisible like Crest's original product for stealthy half-hour sessions.
Crest 3D White "Glamorous White" Whitestrips, $33.50,
Go Smile Super White Snap Packs let you target every tooth without irritating gums, plus they come in user-friendly a.m. and p.m. doses.
Go Smile Super White Snap Packs, $59,
This is the only toothpaste with active peroxide ingredients that’s backed by the American Dental Association. It'll do wonders to maintain upkeep of your other treatments on a daily basis.
Colgate Optic White Toothpaste, $12 for 3 tubes,
The Best Toothbrush to Buy
The beauty of a sonic toothbrush is that it does the work for you. "People who use a manual brush have to learn how to angle the bristles properly to get under the gum area at the root," says Jonathan B. Levine, a doctor of dental medicine in New York City. "Many people brush too hard and use a horizontal back-and-forth motion that can erode the gum area and accelerate tooth wear." Play it safe and invest in a sonic model, which can reach costs upwards of $200, but often comes with a long-term warranty.
Everyday Tips for Whitening Teeth
Keep your whitened-teeth longer by avoiding a few common causes of discoloration. Steer clear of blue- or green-tinted mouthwashes, which, according to Emanuel Layliev, D.D.S., director of the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, contain dyes that can lead to staining, especially if the rinse is loaded with alcohol.
"The alcohol dries the surface of teeth and restorations thus making the teeth more prone to darkening," he says. He also advises patients to sip coffee, red wine and dark sodas through a straw, since these daily treats can contribute to yellowing. Not sure what will compromise your bright white smile? "A good rule of thumb: Anything that will stain a white shirt will stain your teeth," Layliev says.
How to Brush Your Teeth Without a Toothbrush
While brushing and flossing is "the very best way to clean teeth," according to Layliev, certain foods can help naturally scrub your smile in a pinch. When you can't brush, nosh on fibrous fruits and veggies like spinach, lettuce, broccoli, and apples—their crunchy textures help eliminate build-up. For fresher breath, chew on all-natural bacteria-busters like parsley, cilantro, and mint. Cucumbers also contain "odor-fighting phytochemicals," Layliev says.
How to Prevent Bleeding Gums
If you've been lax on flossing, your body may be trying to send you a message. "The main reason your gums bleed is because plaque has been allowed to form along the gum line," Levine says.
Since the health of the mouth affects your general health, Levine says it's important to nip gum disease in the bud by adhering to a daily flossing and a twice-daily brushing routine. If you're not a fan of traditional ribbon floss, clean between teeth with an interdental floss-up or flossette, which is much easier to maneuver.
When Not to Brush Your Teeth
According to recent research, there's a glaring exception to the rule of brushing your teeth directly after a round of drinks. If you're sipping on drinks containing citric or phosphoric acid—i.e. fruit juices and sodas—wait a full hour before brushing, says Kenton Ross of the Academy of General Dentistry. "The acid in the drink weakens the enamel and brushing can then remove microscopic amounts of that important enamel layer." Give your mouth a swish with cool water to dilute the acid, then brush up later.
How to Alleviate Sensitive Teeth
If your dentist has determined that a cavity or cracked tooth isn't the cause of sensitivity, worn enamel or an exposed root could be the problem. Too-rough brushing is one of the possible causes of worn-down enamel and receding gums, which means it may be time to dispose of hard-bristle brushes.
A trip to the dentist can also help quell discomfort since the doctor can apply an enamel-strengthening fluoride gel or seal the tooth root to prevent painful jolts every time you snack on something hot or cold.