f you’re like most of us who’ve indulged in the coffee, the wine and even the cigarettes in our younger years, then your teeth have probably seen better days. Sure, there are dozens if not hundreds of whitening products to choose from, with laser teeth-whitening booming in popularity, but there may be a cheaper and simpler way to fix a dingy smile first.
In 2012, the American Association of Orthodontists, in partnership with Wakefield Research, conducted a study on how people perceive their smiles — which has been tossed around by dentists as a way to promote teeth-whitening since it was released. But the study does have some interesting points to it. Over a third of Americans feel unhappy with the appearance of their teeth and even believe they’d have a better social life if they had a better smile. This problem may be even bigger among young adults, seeing as 48 percent of the study participants from the ages of 18 to 24 had untagged themselves on Facebook before because they didn’t like their teeth.
Whether in pictures or face-to-face, this kind of smile “shame” is something no one should have to live with. It can help to use common sense and cut down on the foods and drinks that may be staining your teeth in the first place. And depending on the severity of the staining, you may need professional treatment.
Or one of these expert-approved at-home whitening tips might do the trick:
1. Put it in perspective
This isn’t an at-home whitening remedy per se, but it helps to know that yellow-tinted teeth aren’t always a bad thing. “Did you know that naturally yellow teeth are stronger than pearly whites? This might be a good reason to use natural whitener for stubborn stains. Enamel is actually bluish-white. This enamel color is somewhat translucent, so the yellow of the dentin beneath makes the teeth naturally look a light shade of grey or light yellow,” Dr. Lynn Anderson, yoga instructor and natural health expert, says.
Now that we know that ultra-white teeth may not be a realistic standard for most, we can form a plan of attack.
2. Try oil-pulling
If you haven’t seen it buzzing around on Facebook yet, oil-pulling, using antimicrobial coconut oil to clean and detox, is hot, hot, hot. Roberta Perry, founder of the natural skin care line ScrubzBody, who has been seen on The Dr. Oz Show, considers coconut oil-pulling a wonderful way to whiten teeth naturally. “You do have to swish [it] around your mouth for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week or more to have it be effective,” she says.
Dr. Axe, clinical nutritionist and doctor of natural medicine, says, “My favorite home remedy for whitening teeth is definitely coconut oil-pulling. With this ancient Ayurvedic technique, you not only break down stains on the teeth and loosen plaque, but you also detoxify the mouth, eliminating bacteria and toxins that can actually contribute to poor dental health and a less attractive smile. And oil-pulling is simple to do: Just swish a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil around in your mouth for 10-15 minutes first thing in the morning. When finished, spit the oil into the trash.”
3. Eat an apple a day
“An apple a day keeps the dentist away” should be the real saying, according to Anderson. While many rumors swirl online that recommend brushing teeth with lemon juice to whiten, Anderson staunchly disagrees. Using lemon juice on teeth is acidifying and can break down enamel, allowing the yellow dentin to shine through. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is better for your teeth when it is eaten to aid in calcium absorption and remove plaque and debris.
Here’s where the daily apple comes in. Anderson says, “Ascorbic acid is a natural organic compound most prevalent in apples. So, my first recommendation for keeping the teeth white is to eat an apple a day. This might just keep the dentist away! Along with ascorbic acid, which has a whitening effect, apples are high in vitamin C, which is a body biochemical normalizer and is essential for keeping teeth strong. Strong, healthy teeth are always bright.”
4. Eat crunchy vegetables
This one is easy-peasy and good for you in more ways than one. Anderson suggests making a regular practice of eating crunchy vegetables, like carrots and celery, since “they act as mild abrasives, removing plaque and stains.”
5. Eat burnt toast
Along with the crunchy, scrubby vegetables, Anderson recommends enjoying your morning toast well done. As strange as this sounds, she explains, “When I was young, my mother would burn our toast black. She would tell us to eat it because the charcoal was good for keeping the teeth white. It turns out Mom was right! The abrasive quality of the charcoal does whiten teeth. However, this is not something that should be done every day. Remember, you want to whiten the teeth and not break down the enamel.”
Anderson continues, “You can find loose charcoal at your health-food store. Make sure it is derived from wood or coconut and not petroleum. Charcoal absorbs the tannin that stains your teeth. Dip your toothbrush in the charcoal powder and brush your teeth in swirls. Rinse thoroughly. If you like, rinse with a little peroxide diluted in water.”
6. Use hydrogen peroxide
Anderson is right — that tingly stuff that your mom put on your scrapes when you were a kid may work wonders at cleaning your teeth too. Perry explains, “Another way to whiten in less time is to add a bit of hydrogen peroxide to your toothpaste. It helps whiten and brighten, and it’s done when you are brushing anyway.” However, we recommend consulting with your dentist first on this one since hydrogen peroxide has been rumored to break down tooth enamel, and even Colgate only recommends using it a maximum of three times a week.
Dr. Axe backs up brushing with hydrogen peroxide as a natural teeth-whitening trick, though he recommends adding in baking soda to make a paste. He also suggests brushing after eating or drinking, especially after enjoying a “discoloring” food like wine or coffee. “You can even make your own homemade teeth-whitener with baking soda, lemon essential oil and strawberries,” Dr. Axe says.
7. Floss, floss, floss
Your dentist has been trying to convince you for years, but regular flossing really does have some merit. And considering that only 4 out of 10 Americans floss at least once a day, you might want to give it another go. “Floss your teeth on a regular basis,” Perry says. “Much of the yellow look is due to ‘stuff’ accumulating in between your teeth instead of on them, so besides being great dental hygiene-wise, it helps teeth look whiter, too.”
8. Put on some lipstick
When all else fails and you’re still waiting for your at-home teeth-whitening treatments to kick in, you can use an optical illusion to add some sparkle to your smile. “Color can make your teeth whiter,” Anderson says. “The right choice of lipstick actually makes teeth appear whiter. Choose bright reds, deep reds, fuchsia and medium plum. These colors give contrast and therefore make teeth look brighter.”