If you practice good oral hygiene while you have braces, minor stains from food and drink likely won't be drastic when your braces come off.

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Whiten or wait?

Using intense whitening products such as strips and paint-on peroxides while wearing traditional braces on teeth can lead to uneven results. Dentists and orthodontists can recommend products for keeping uncovered parts of teeth looking their best, though, and some of these may contain whitening ingredients such as low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. Many oral rinses used for added cleaning and for relieving mild soreness around the cheeks and gums generally contain 1.5 or 3 percent hydrogen peroxide versus the 10 to 35 percent in many over-the-counter and in-office whitening carbamide peroxides [source: ADA]. Salt rinses and gentle baking soda brushing also may remove buildup on teeth and help gums.

Whitening toothpastes marketed for everyday use, and not those designed to whiten drastically in a week or so, also may be just fine, but should not be used without checking with your orthodontist and dentist first. Keeping a thorough and consistent routine of brushing, flossing and getting professional cleanings may be the best way to keep teeth white or to make them whiter.

Being afraid of what your teeth look like beneath the brackets is common as time approaches to remove your braces. For the most part, though, a good in-office cleaning after braces are removed yields excellent results. If your oral hygiene has been good, minor stains from food and drink likely won't be so drastic enough to cause a difference in shades. Any stains that go deeper will most likely react very well to whitening agents, and whether done in the dentist's office, with dentist-recommended strips or home trays or dentist-approved over-the-counter toothpastes or other options, you can have whiter teeth within days or weeks.

If your oral hygiene has been poor, your teeth may be stained around the surfaces that had been covered with brackets and may need whitening to even out the discoloration [source: Hirsch]. Stains can be permanent, so follow the dentist's orders on cleaning and whitening. Teeth and gums also may be especially sensitive after appliances are removed, and you'll need to get used to wearing a retainer to keep newly aligned teeth in place, so adding whitening to all of the changes may not be advisable if you have mouth soreness.

Getting your braces off comes at the end of a long and inconvenient wait and with a lot of anticipation about how you'll look with a metal-free smile. Waiting to whiten may seem like just another sacrifice and inconvenience, but if you wait and get the dentist's OK, whitening the newly straightened teeth may just maximize the wow factor.