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Whiten Your Teeth At Home

Turn your grin into a dazzler and fast with these expert lip tips and teeth-whitening treatments

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

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Smiling, which usually feels good, can also make you feel self-conscious if your teeth are less than white or your lips are lined or cracked. But a slew of new treatments and products can keep you from wanting to stifle that grin. Here are the most effective teeth whiteners and brighteners, plus tips on selecting and applying gorgeous and goof-proof shades of red lipstick — just in time for little-black-dress season.

Get Whiter Teeth at Home

Strips, trays, toothpastes...what really works? Here, our experts reveal their favorites, along with advice on who should see a dentist before considering the DIY approach.

Why do teeth change color?
Blame time and your diet. With age, the enamel on teeth becomes thinner and more transparent, and the inner layer, called dentin, looks darker. Teeth also absorb colored liquids throughout your life, says Jeff Golub-Evans, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist in New York City. Coffee, tea, cola, and red wine are frequent culprits, along with more tenacious tobacco stains.

How do at-home whiteners work?
Peroxide is the key ingredient in most whiteners. This safe-for-the-mouth bleaching agent forms bubbles on enamel that lift away stains. The higher the concentration of peroxide and the longer you leave it on your teeth, the whiter they'll get. The downside: Bleaching molecules can get trapped in nerve passageways, causing increased, though temporary, tooth sensitivity.

Who's a good candidate?
"At-home whitening is an option for anyone with a healthy mouth who has been to the dentist in the past year," says Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association who practices in Cleveland. Three groups shouldn't do their own whitening: those whose teeth are painfully sensitive to cold; anyone with crowns or fillings on their front teeth (they won't whiten and will end up looking much darker than surrounding teeth); and people whose enamel seems more gray than yellow (due to intrinsic stains from antibiotics like tetracycline taken in childhood). Assuming your dentist has given you the OK, Dr. Golub-Evans says you can assess your whitening potential this way: Hold a piece of white printer paper next to your teeth. If they look yellow, the stains are probably just on the surface — teeth should turn at least a couple of shades lighter with at-home bleaching. If your teeth look grayish, the discoloration likely lies inside the teeth, and bleaching won't help much.

Which products work best to brighten your smile

Trays and strips are the most effective at-home choices for dramatic whitening, say dentists. These "barrier method" whiteners keep the peroxide solution against the teeth for the longest time. Daily use can whiten teeth five or more shades. Most brands of trays and strips recommend you use them for around 30 minutes a day until you get to the desired shade (usually at least a week). For the most dazzling results, look for higher concentrations of peroxide combined with longer application times. Crest Whitestrips Premium ($35, drugstores) contains 10 percent peroxide and calls for wearing the strips for 30 minutes twice a day for a week.
The fit of the trays or strips stops some people from using them. Unlike a custom tray from the dentist's office, disposable versions are made with generic molds designed for the average-size mouth. They can leak peroxide solution through any gaps and cause tooth and gum irritation. Whitening strips easily wrap around teeth but sometimes slip and slide. (In early 2009, Crest will introduce a new whitening strip it claims will have better hold.) To reduce potential gum irritation with both trays and strips, don't brush your teeth for up to half an hour before applying them — or at least skip the toothpaste, suggests Robert Gerlach, D.D.S., a research fellow at P&G and developer of the original Crest Whitestrips. "Detergents in toothpaste can make gums more susceptible to irritation," he says.
Paint-on whiteners let you target the peroxide solution to specific teeth and spot-treat discolored cracks and chips on enamel. But because there's nothing holding the peroxide to the tooth, saliva quickly dilutes it. Some versions employ the same technology that gives long-lasting lipsticks more hold. "The whitening solution forms a film that protects the peroxide," explains Dr. Golub-Evans.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Answer:
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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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