If your teeth are starting to resemble those of your Great Aunt Kathy who lived on nothing but black coffee and cigarettes, then there’s a chance your Google search history shows numerous queries as to the best ways to whiten your teeth. And while a professional whitening treatment carried out by your dentist is hands down the best and most effective way to up the sparkle on your pearly whites, they can be expensive.
Luckily, there are a variety of at-home teeth whitening products (we’re sure you’ve seen a couple pop up on both your Facebook and Instagram feeds in recent months) that promise to help you achieve a whiter and brighter smile. To help you navigate the world of at-home teeth whitening and to determine which products work and the ones you should steer clear of, we spoke to Philips Zoom Ambassador and Cosmetic Dentist at Quality Dental, Dr. Luke Cronin.
What causes teeth to change colour?
Unfortunately, simply getting older is one of the main reasons for tooth discolouration. This occurs as stains develop on the surface enamel of the tooth over time. However, Cronin notes that if you’re experiencing early discolouration through your 20s, 30s and 40s, your diet and lifestyle may be to blame. “To prevent staining, try to avoid or simply consume less of certain stain-causing foods and drinks like coffee, tea and red wine. If you do indulge, a good habit is to rinse your mouth with water [immediately] afterwards to remove any residue that will adhere to your tooth’s enamel.”
If you don’t think your lifestyle choices are to blame for your tooth discolouration, Cronin recommends visiting your dentist to get to the bottom of your issue.
The best ways to prevent teeth from yellowing
As the saying goes, prevention is always better than a cure, which is why it’s important to take steps to ensure your teeth don’t change colour in the first place. According to Cronin, one of the best ways to do just that is to invest in an electric toothbrush. “Electric toothbrushes are clinically proven to remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes, delivering visibly cleaner, healthier and whiter teeth. Make sure you brush your teeth morning and night and change your electric toothbrush head approximately every three months to maintain its effectiveness.”
In addition to upgrading your toothbrush, ensuring you floss at least once a day is essential “to remove any food particles and plaque in between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach,” says Cronin. He also advises reviewing your diet. While coffee, tea and red wine are known to stain teeth, “regular consumption of sports drinks, berries and tomato sauce can also stain the tooth’s enamel over time”.
And last but not least, giving up smoking is vital to prevent your teeth from yellowing. “Even if you only consider yourself a social smoker, the effects of nicotine on your teeth are noticeable and are ageing your smile. Nicotine stains the enamel, causing it to prematurely yellow in colour. The best way to counter the yellowing effects of smoking is to remove the cause; not only will the staining resolve, your general oral health will improve as well,” says Cronin.
The lowdown on at-home teeth whitening treatments
If you’re after a relatively low-cost yet highly effective way to whiten your teeth in the comfort of your own home, opt for a whitening kit. Whitening kits generally include a pen containing an active whitening ingredient, which can be applied directly onto the teeth, as well as a mouth guard and a LED light to accelerate the whitening process.
Cronin explains that kits such as these “provide a great, cheaper alternative to in-chair professional treatments, but generally require multiple applications due to the lower concentration of the active whitening agent, hydrogen peroxide. The effectiveness of the product will also depend on the strength of the whitening agent it contains and how you use the product”.
It’s also important to note that as at-home kits contain lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, you will likely need to use the product over consecutive nights to achieve the whiteness you’re after.
Activated charcoal products
Despite activated charcoal products in the form of toothbrushes, pastes, DIY recipes and treatments flooding social media in recent times, Cronin warns there is no clinical evidence that activated charcoal is effective as a stain remover, or that it can whiten teeth. “In fact, without clinical evidence, it’s unclear if activated charcoal is safe to use on your teeth due to its abrasive qualities. The other concern is the potential for product misuse in terms of the quantity used, how vigorously the person applies the product and whether the product is over-used to achieve the desired result. My advice is to consult your dentist if you’re looking to whiten your teeth – they will advise you on the most appropriate product to use, especially if you have concerns about sensitivity.”
“Teeth whitening strips contain peroxide or bleach and work in the same way as they do on your clothes and hair,” explains Cronin. “The peroxide bleaches the surface of your teeth to reduce staining and whiten their appearance. By applying the plastic-coated strips to your teeth, the peroxide comes into contact with your enamel, which works to remove the stains that cause discolouration.”
While most whitening strips on the market are safe to use, Cronin notes “they’re not a teeth whitening method I would recommend as some strips contain chlorine dioxide, which can impact the enamel on your teeth and result in tooth sensitivity”.
LED light treatments
If you’ve been anywhere near Instagram in recent months, we’re sure you’ve seen ads for LED teeth whitening treatments, like HiSmile, pop up all over the place. And while a prolific social media presence can sometimes cause us to question whether the method is legitimate (waist-trainers, we’re looking at you), Cronin notes light treatments, which are used after a whitening agent is applied to the teeth to accelerate the whitening process, can effectively whiten teeth.
While numerous scientific studies detail the effectiveness of LED light as a teeth whitening method, the studies also “highlight numerous variables that can affect the results, for example, how long the bleach is left on the teeth and how yellow the teeth were at the start of the treatment,” says Cronin.
Ultimately, while the peroxide-based whitening agent and LED light work by penetrating the external enamel to whiten the tooth’s internal tissue (dentine) and dissolve surface stains, using light treatments come with risks. “Some of the risks noted in the scientific studies were the possibility of burning soft tissue in the mouth, gum irritation and increased sensitivity,” explains Cronin.
DIY home remedies
While it can be tempting to forgo a trip to the chemist and whip up your own DIY teeth whitening mixture instead, doing so could cause your pearly whites more harm than good. DIY remedies like mixing baking soda with water to create a paste have become so popular because the “chemical composition of baking soda (or sodium bicarbonate) makes it a great mild abrasive, which is why it’s so good at removing surface stain on the tooth’s enamel,” explains Cronin. And while that might make it sound like the perfect teeth whitening option, Cronin advises that regular use can cause damage to your tooth enamel, especially if you brush too hard. He also notes that the mixture is not going to remove deep or stubborn stains on the enamel. “So if these are your main concerns, you should consult your dentist to discuss professional whitening treatments.”
Surprisingly, one of the best (and easiest) ways to whiten your teeth without causing any ensuing damage is to chew sugar-free gum. “Sugar-free chewing gum gets a dental thumbs up for a number of reasons. The primary benefit is that it helps remove the build-up of food particles from the surface of your teeth after eating. The chewing action also stimulates saliva production, which helps eliminate food particles in the mouth, neutralises acids that contribute to tooth decay, and strengthens the tooth’s enamel,” says Cronin.
When selecting your gum, Cronin suggests looking for brands that contain xylitol – a naturally occurring sweetener. “Unlike sugar, xylitol doesn’t stimulate bacteria production so the volume of bacteria in your mouth decreases with chewing.”
Now you’ve got your teeth sorted, discover how the health of your mouth (and teeth!) impacts the rest of your body.
Have you tried any of these teeth whitening options? Let us know your favourite methods in the comments below.
Main image credit: Getty
Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.