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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
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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.

The Good Housekeeping Research Institute compared the performances of three paint-on teeth whiteners to a leading over-the-counter whitener and found that if you have sensitive teeth, the paint-on whiteners were the better choice. Testers used the products for either one or two weeks, according to the package directions. They gave GoSmile Advanced Formula B1 ($89, Sephora) high marks for its simplicity (pull out a pellet, snap it, and apply) and because, in most cases, it caused the least tooth sensitivity. "I liked the easy use [of GoSmile]," said one woman. "It was portable and not messy." Yet, while our volunteers thought GoSmile whitened effectively, it was outperformed by the control product in our laboratory before-and-after shade evaluations.

Toothpastes and toothbrushes brighten teeth a shade or two at most. A toothbrush featuring an oscillating motion will give you better results than a manual toothbrush, says Dr. Gerlach. But you have to brush for the recommended two minutes (Americans, on average, brush for well under a minute). As for whitening toothpastes, the most effective ones include ingredients that prevent new stains from sticking to teeth, like Colgate Total Advanced Whitening ($3.49, drugstores).
Mouthwash, the latest tooth brightener on the market, can swish away only the most superficial stains, since it doesn't stay in contact with teeth for very long. (In fact, if you don't use tobacco or drink coffee, tea, colas, or red wine, you may not need it.) Try Listerine Whitening Vibrant White Pre-Brush Rinse ($6.15, drugstores).

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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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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