Quick: What's the most requested cosmetic dental procedure in the U.S.? If you guessed teeth whitening, you're correct. And in addition to visiting the dentist for whiter teeth, Americans spend more than $1.4 billion on over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products annually [source: Mapes]. All that bleach may turn pearly whites whiter but it can come at a price -- and not just in dollars. There are side effects that come along with both at-home and in-office whitening. The most common complaint is tooth sensitivity, especially to cold foods and drinks, and some people find the bleaches in these products also irritate their gums.
Enter natural tooth whitening options. These won't whiten teeth the same way an OTC whitening kit or a dental procedure will, because they don't contain bleaching ingredients. There are some tricks, however, that will help to remove surface stains caused by some of the most common tooth-staining culprits: foods and drinks we consume every day, like tomato sauce, wine and sports drinks. And don't discount that morning cup of coffee or your nicotine habit. Basically, the common wisdom is that if it can stain your shirt, it can stain your teeth.
Whether you're trying to avoid the side effects of or the bleaching ingredients in OTC tooth whitening kits, or you're just looking for easy ways to keep your teeth bright between whitening appointments (newly whitened pearly whites will begin to lose their sparkle after about a month), we have five natural smile-brightening tips for you. First, let's talk about why crunching on celery is good for your oral health.
Crunch on fruits and vegetables
Eat your vegetables! It's not just a dinner time directive from mom -- it's also a fantastic way to maintain a healthy smile.
Crunchy vegetables such as raw celery and carrots, and crispy fruits like raw apples and pears are naturally abrasive, which means they'll polish your teeth and remove stains from your tooth enamel -- and they'll do it without harming or eroding enamel, the outermost layer of a tooth.
Crunchy fruits and veggies also encourage your mouth to produce saliva, which is important because saliva helps protect teeth from cavity-causing bacteria. Saliva also contains compounds called surfactants as well as enzymes that give it detergent properties, which means the more saliva in your mouth, the fewer stains on your teeth.
Buff stains away with baking soda
Whether you're new to the world of tooth whitening, or it's becoming an old habit, you probably already know this one: Baking soda will help brighten your smile.
This trick is an easy at-home stain remover. Mix baking soda and lemon juice into a paste. Brush the paste onto your teeth with a toothbrush, wait a minute, then brush thoroughly to remove. The baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, will help remove surface stains from your tooth enamel while the citric acid in the lemon juice has a bleaching effect.
If you have sensitive teeth and gums, baking soda can be used alone to remove stains, or it can be mixed with salt to do its stain-removing trick.
Take note: This whitening method can be abrasive, which means it may damage your tooth's enamel if you aren't careful. Buff no more than once per week, and don't let the mixture sit on your teeth for more than one minute at a time.
Eating cheese after a meal may help prevent cavities and may promote enamel remineralization. It's the casein, a milk protein, that's in cheese (and milk and yogurt) along with calcium and phosphate that are at work here, making enamel stronger.
Why is strong enamel important to a white smile? Enamel is the outermost layer of a tooth, and it protects the layer called dentin. While enamel can become stained, it's the dentin that determines the color of your tooth. Eating things or using products that replenish calcium and phosphate is important to keeping enamel strong and healthy. While there are at-home remedies for removing stains from enamel, only your dentist can help with dentin discoloration. Keep enamel strong and keep your smile bright.
Brush with berries
These little berries will help lower your risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and as it turns out, are also helpful in whitening your teeth. Which berries? Strawberries. The vitamin C in strawberries will help whisk away plaque build-up, while the malic acid, a natural astringent in the berries, will help to remove surface stains on teeth.
Here's how to do it: Crush strawberries into a pulp and apply that to your teeth with a toothbrush. Let it sit for five minutes and then rinse your mouth well with water. You can get similar results swapping the strawberries with a paste made with lemon juice and salt. Be sure to rinse well after applying that, too.
Brush and floss regularly
The best thing you can do for your oral health is to brush and floss your teeth after every meal if possible, or at least twice a day. Not only does regular brushing and flossing reduce your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease, the combination also helps to remove plaque before it can give your teeth a yellow hue.
Not much of a flosser? About half of American adults don't floss [source: Freeman]. Don't overlook flossing. Regular, proper flossing helps to remove stains from between teeth making your smile appear brighter.
And in addition to the toothy benefits, good oral hygiene habits may help lower your risk of other health problems, such as coronary heart disease and stroke.
A new way to brush your teeth? HowStuffWorks looks at toothpaste tablets.
More Great Links
- Academy of General Dentistry: What's alternative dentistry?
- Care2: Natural Remedies
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Oral Health Resources
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Oral Health
- National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Dentists Kennewick. "10 Best Natural Teeth Whitening Tips." 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.dentistskennewick.com/dentist-kennewick-10-best-natural-teeth-whitening-tips/
- Freeman, David. "Flossing Teeth for Dummies: No More Excuses!" WebMD. 2009. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/flossing-floss-sticks
- Freeman, David. "Foods and Habits That Stain Your Teeth." WebMD. 2009. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/foods-stain-teeth-feature
- Gabrick, Andrea. "Nutritional Benefits of the Strawberry." WebMD. 2008. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/nutritional-benefits-of-the-strawberry
- Jelich, Alexander. "7 Tips for Natural Tooth Whitening."The American Chronicle. 2008. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/48092
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- Mapes, Diane. "Blindlingly white: Teeth bleaching gone too far." MSNBC.com. 2007. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15309784/ns/health-oral_health/t/blindingly-white-teeth-bleaching-gone-too-far/
- McGowan, Kathleen. "The Biology of ...Saliva." Discover Magazine. 2005. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://discovermagazine.com/2005/oct/the-biology-of-saliva
- MedicineNet.com. "Teeth Whitening." 2005. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/teeth_whitening/article.htm
- Reynolds, Eric C. "Casein Phosphopeptide-Amorphous Calcium Phosphate and the Remineralization of Enamel." U.S. Dentistry. Pages 51 - 54. 2006. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.touchbriefings.com/pdf/2262/reynolds.pdf
- Shocker, Laura. "7 Natural Tips for Whiter Teeth." The Huffington Post. 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/20/natural-tooth-whiteners_n_864546.html#s281049&title=Try_it_Cheese
- Sparks, Lisa Vernon. "A history of tooth-whitening." Seattle Times. 2010. (Aug 26, 2011) http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2013419604_teeth16.html
- The Daily Mail Online. "Can strawberries really whiten teeth?!" (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-198103/Can-strawberries-really-whiten-teeth.html
- The Dr. Oz Show. "Natural Teeth Whitening Solutions" 2010. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/natural-teeth-whitening-solutions
- Yarnell, Amanda. "Teeth Whiteners." Chemical and Engineering News. Vol. 81 no. 6. Page 29. 2003. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/8106whiteteeth.html