Beauty Tips & Tricks


The Best Ways to Whiten Your Teeth - From DIY To High-Tech

28 Feb, 2018
By Daniela Massenz
Who doesn’t want sparkling pearly whites? Some of us are born with them, but then lifestyle habits and ageing conspire against us. Luckily, most of us can achieve a whiter, brighter smile. Let’s discover the options and the pitfalls of teeth whitening…
Let’s get one thing straight right up front… not everyone has naturally white teeth. It’s up to our genetic make-up, and white teeth doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy, or yellow teeth unhealthy. But, unfortunately, most of us are programmed to like white teeth, and perception is reality. Then there are some of us lucky enough to start out with teeth that are beautifully sparkling white, but over time all the things we love to eat and drink, injury or poor oral hygiene can leave us with stained, yellow teeth.
The next thing we need to understand is that the whiteness of our teeth depends not on the enamel so much, but on the dentin inside the tooth, which gets darker and can look yellow with the passing of time. The enamel also plays a part in that we can either have thick enamel or thin enamel, and enamel which is translucent, letting light shine through, reflecting what’s underneath. Enamel, sadly, can also wear down - hard brushing, eating and drinking acid foods, etc., can make the enamel thinner, so the dentin shines through more. It is also porous, with channels down to the dentin, and it can get stained from things we eat and drink (see below) – and smoking!

What Are the Things That Cause Tooth Discoloration?

Some of the causes are difficult to control:
  • Mouth breathing and dry mouth, as this dries out saliva, which causes less enamel remineralisation and protection.

  • Antibiotic use, especially as the teeth were forming.

  • Excessive fluoride intake, especially in children.

  • Your genes.
Now for the things you can avoid:
  • Coffee, tea, wine, berries and cool drinks all cause discoloration. So does smoking and a generally poor diet. Not to mention age! But a good rule to remember is that basically anything that would stain your tablecloth will also stain your teeth.

  • It’s not only the colour of food that causes discoloured teeth. Any acidic foods make teeth temporarily vulnerable to enamel damage and, therefore, discoloration. A good tip here is to drink a glass of water after, for example, each glass of wine, to rinse away acids and stabilise your saliva.
    TIP: Don’t brush your teeth straight after you drink wine, as the enamel is vulnerable from the acidity. Rather wait half an hour (after you’ve drunk that water) for the saliva in your mouth to re-mineralise your teeth. Then brush.

  • Discoloured teeth may also be caused by too much sugar in your diet. A diet high in sugar is the perfect environment for the growth of Streptococcus Mutans, a bacterium that causes plaque and gingivitis. Don’t forget to brush after eating sugary food or drinks.

  • Then there’s erosion of enamel, which exposes the yellow dentin underneath. So strengthening the enamel is a good preventive, and calcium is your best bet in this regard. Include plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet, e.g., almonds, cheese, broccoli, etc., but also consider taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Getting to The Tooth of The Matter

Lucky for you, staining is easily treatable by using whitening toothpaste, but this is only ‘extrinsic’ (external) whitening. Whitening toothpastes may make your teeth whiter than regular toothpaste as they have greater stain-removing capabilities because they contain gritty exfoliators like silica. They can’t, however, make your teeth whiter than their original colour. This sort of ‘intrinsic’ whitening can only be achieved by the use either of DIY bleaching agents or professional means.
Remember that tooth whitening is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if done by your dentist, you won’t see results immediately. You’ll need to stick to the programme to get the result, and don’t undermine the hard work by indulging in forbidden ‘fruit’.

Keep Your Teeth White the DIY Way

Ready to start getting your Hollywood smile? The best time to start is about two weeks after having your teeth cleaned professionally by a dental hygienist, as plaque, tartar and some stains will have already been removed.
  • The number one way to keep your teeth white is to brush regularly, but also to brush correctly. Don’t saw across the tooth, which will eventually wear out the enamel, but use gentle, circular motions.

  • Very important: Use a soft-bristle brush so you don’t damage the enamel.

  • Choose a gentle whitening toothpaste (which contain exfoliating agents like silica, aluminum oxide, calcium carbonate, and baking soda) that is not too coarsely gritty, as this can also wear the enamel. Besides exfoliators, some, like Colgate Optic White Instant Toothpaste contain optical brighteners, so your teeth look brighter instantly, while the exfoliators do their work long-term on the stains. Others to try include Pearl Drops Daily Whitening Ultimate Restore Toothpaste, Elgydium Whitening Toothpaste Cool Lemon with baking soda, Olgani Detoxifying Charcoal Toothpaste and Himalaya Stain-Away Toothpaste with fruit enzymes.

  • International dental associations recommend you brush for at least 2 minutes, twice a day.

  • It may be worth considering an upgrade to an electric toothbrush, which does a really good job of removing plaque without putting too much pressure on the teeth or gums - don’t forget to massage your gums gently, too, to keep them healthy. Some electric toothbrushes come with timers, so you can’t skimp on your 2 minutes! We recommend Oral B Professional Care 500 Power Toothbrush and Phillips Sonicare Health White Sonic Toothbrush.

  • TIP: Add a whitening pre-rinse before you brush and floss to loosen build-up and food, making brushing more effective. Try Listerine Advanced White Multi-Action Mouthwash or White Glo Diamond Whitening Mouthwash.

The Heavy Hitters: At Home Teeth Whitening Treatment

That’s it for the extrinsic bit. But what else is effective for DIY teeth whitening?

Intrinsic whitening, in other words, achieving a whiter colour than your original teeth, involves holding a whitening gel against the teeth for at least an hour for a couple of weeks. Mostly these products contain natural bleaching agents carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. At-home whitening trays can be made by your dentist, and these are highly recommended as they are made to fit the shape of your teeth and mouth, so you get less leakage of the goop than the generic DIY mouth trays.
  • DIY Teeth whitening kits - you have a standard mouth tray into which you put the whitening gel (containing bleaching agents’ hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). You keep in your mouth for a prescribed time and repeat for a recommended period. These do work, but you can’t expect miracles after a one-hour session. You’re probably looking at a fairly substantial time commitment before you see any significant difference, as they will have a lower dose of the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide than your dentist would use, for safety reasons. Try White Glo Diamond Teeth Whitening System.

    Safety first! It’s very important to make sure these whiteners stay away from your gums as they can become irritated by the bleach. Also make sure you follow the rules: if the instructions say 1 hour, then don’t think that keeping it on longer will give you quicker results.   Apart from potentially damaging your gums, there’s a far more serious potential side effect. Hydrogen peroxide is acidic, and will start eating away at the enamel if left on longer than instructed. It’s low molecular weight is what promotes tooth bleaching, but it also unfortunately releases inflammatory mediators into the pulp of the tooth, and permanent damage to the pulp may be the result. Maybe another good reason to leave these sorts of procedures to your dentist?
  • Whitening toothpastes with hydrogen peroxide A study has found that brushing with an ‘off-the-shelf’ toothpaste containing both baking soda and hydrogen peroxide for about 6 weeks resulted in 62% whiter teeth.

  • Whitening films are strips of safe plastic that are impregnated with peroxide. They are possibly safer than bleach trays as they stay on your teeth, so less chance of irritation. Try White Glo Diamond Bright Nights Dissolving Whitening Films.

    TIP: make sure your teeth are clean and dry (blot them with a tissue) when you apply the strips, so they have best contact with the enamel. Push them in to the spaces between your teeth gently with a fingernail. Follow instructions on use and time.

  • Whitening pens can be used to ‘touch up’ spots that are missed by whitening strips, hard to reach areas on crooked teeth, etc. Try White Glo Diamond Extreme Whitening Pen.
CAUTION! Before you consider any sort of intrinsic whitening, dental experts recommend that you consult your dentist first so they can examine the state of your teeth, what’s causing the darkening (maybe there are underlying problems you aren’t aware of), and checking the state of your gums. If all’s good and you’d like to go ahead, your dentist can also do this procedure for you, which is safest and most effective solution. 

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Professional Teeth Whitening

While asking the pros to whiten your teeth is by far the most effective of all treatments, be prepared for a little discomfort (and boredom). Sitting in a chair with a cheek retractor stuffed into your mouth to keep your skin away from the teeth – for a full hour - can make your jaw just a teensy-weensy bit stiff.

Basically, the procedure involves applying a whitening gel containing the highest allowable safe dosage of hydrogen peroxide 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. A bright purple light is most often used to speed along the process.

It follows pretty much the same principle as teeth whitening kits but because it’s applied by a professional is made of much stronger stuff and therefore way more effective. The results are instantaneous and it can get you up to eight shades whiter after one treatment. While a big plus of the pro approach is you don’t have to wait days or weeks to see whitening start to take shape, you may have to go for a repeat treatment depending upon the state of your teeth at the start.

The downside to professional whitening is the price. It’s certainly not cheap: a single session costs upwards of R4500. You also have no guarantee on results as these are dependent on age, type of staining and a number of other factors. And it doesn’t last forever – so you have to be committed time and money wise to regular sessions.

The ‘Alternative’ Tooth Whiteners

  • The ancient Indian Ayurvedic remedy known as oil pulling involves swishing various oils around your mouth to remove bacteria. Popular oils include coconut oil (high in lauric acid, an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial), sesame and sunflower oil. These reduce bacteria in the mouth, but have no proven whitening capability. On the plus side, they contain no dangerous acids to erode enamel, so can safely be used daily.

  • Turmeric – use with care as its trademark yellow colour stains everything in sight! Yet some use it as a teeth whitener! The jury is out, but turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, so it’s good for fighting bacteria responsible for cavities and gum disease. Added to coconut oil, which reportedly has the ability to ‘stick’ to the fatty outer layer of tooth bacteria and literally ‘pull’ it off your teeth, you can use these two together as a tooth whitener. Some dentists feel that turmeric may be too abrasive, however, and recommend rather using baking soda.

No proof, but popular...
  • Activated charcoal is very trendy right now as a tooth whitener. Available as a ready-to-use toothpaste or as a powder or tablet which needs to be mixed with water to form a paste. Brush normally, but perhaps a little longer – at least 3 minutes. But there are a couple of down sides:
    • It’s abrasive, and dentist bodies worry about it eroding enamel.
    • Ever heard of activated charcoal being used for food posoning? The reason for this is that activated charcoal binds up anything it comes into contact with. So if you brush with this on a daily basis, it is going to bind up your saliva and your teeth really need your saliva for remineralisation.

  • Kaolin clay. Because clays are soft and thus non-abrasive, they are considered highly effective at polishing teeth. White kaolin clay is by far the most popular. While there are plenty of people who will testify to the effectiveness of charcoal and clay, no studies have been carried out to evaluate their effectiveness, which means that there is also no data available on potential side effects.

  • Some fans recommend adding a layer of Vaseline to your teeth (our opinion: eeeeeeewwww). Vaseline, while it probably won’t taste great, will create a protective barrier against possibly staining.

So What’s The Bad News?

Tooth whitening may not be for you. Definitely consult your dentist if…
  • You have very sensitive teeth already, receding or sensitive gums, enamel erosion and thin enamel, any cavities or you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Any teeth that aren’t your own – i.e., caps, crowns, veneers, etc., can’t and won’t be whitened, so consider this before you start if these teeth are visible in your mouth, as they won’t ‘match’, and so they’ll be more visible.
But wait! There’s more…
  • Teeth whitening products CAN damage your teeth by removing too much enamel, if used incorrectly.

  • Whitening, however it’s done, can lead to increased sensitivity, so if you have sensitive teeth before you start, be prepared and know you will have to add sensitivity treatments to your routine. Try Sensodyne Rapid Relief Whitening Toothpaste, Colgate Sensitive Whitening Toothpaste or White Glo Extra Strength Whitening Toothpaste - Sensitive.

  • Your teeth are like sponges because they are porous, happily absorbing potentially staining substances present in your food and drink. Whitening products such as strips, etc., make the pores in your teeth slightly more open, so your teeth are even more susceptible to staining after a whitening treatment. Therefore, the best time to use any of these products is just before bed.

  • Remember, too, that the colour of your teeth is set when they first appear. Not everyone starts out with perfectly brilliant white teeth, and basically, the colour you start out with is the best it will ever be without professional intervention.

  • If you’re obsessed with the idea of white teeth, remember that overbleaching may cause teeth to eventually become translucent and appear blue or grey. As with most things – everything in moderation.

  • Don’t try the popular DIY remedy of using a paste of crushed strawberries or lemon juice to whiten your teeth. It may work, but the acid in the fruit will eat away your enamel.

  • Apple cider vinegar is a well-known disinfectant with multiple uses due to the presence of acetic acid, which is an effective antibacterial. So yes – using it as a mouthwash may whiten teeth by destroying bacteria, but it also has the potential to erode enamel with overuse, so it should be used sparingly.

Read More. 8 Truths (and Myths) You Need to Know About Apple Cider Vinegar

The Best Defence Is Offence

It’s a no-brainer that preventing stains in the first place is first prize. Go natural…
  • Raid your fruit bowl! It’s no secret that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is good for your body as a whole, including your teeth. Brushing teeth is a non-negotiable, and diet alone cannot replace this, but eating certain crunchy raw fruits and vegetables can rub away plaque as you eat and are a good alternative when there’s nowhere to brush.

  • How about substituting baking soda for your usual toothpaste? Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, has a mildly abrasive quality as well as natural whitening properties, and it’s a common ingredient in many toothpastes. It’s also alkaline, making it hard for mouth bacteria fail to thrive. Not an overnight solution, but brushing regularly with a paste made up of baking soda and water will, over time, get rid of surface stains.
Finally. If You Can’t Make It – Fake It!
Any lip colour with a blue undertone will make teeth appear whiter, especially if it has a glossy finish. Tanned skin (also fake, of course) also promotes the illusion of whiter teeth. Worth a try!

Read More. How to Improve Your Skin by What You Eat. Yes, Really

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