As much as we try to deny it, the truth is that almost everyone judges others by their looks. There are all kinds of subtle biases at play when it comes to finding a romantic partner, interviewing candidates for a job, or deciding whether someone is trustworthy. One of the most influential factors in making an impression, whether good or bad, is the appearance of one’s teeth.
As a result, people go to some extraordinary lengths to make sure their teeth are as attractive as can be. Sometimes, the tactics we employ in our quest for the perfect pearly whites are downright dangerous. Today we’re talking about teeth whitening: how to do it, who should do it, and what not to do.
The Basic Methods of Whitening Teeth
So you’ve looked in the mirror — and you don’t like what you see when you smile. How should you go about bringing those chompers up to snuff?
Hands down, the best way is to visit a cosmetic dentist. This is what the celebrities and the beautiful people of the world do when they are born with less-than-perfect teeth. A dentist can evaluate your smile and advise you as to your options.
If your teeth are well-aligned but just gray, yellow, dull or dingy, you will probably be best served by in-office whitening. There are several types, and which you choose will depend on the extent of brightening that your teeth require, the time you want to spend in the chair, and your budget.
Dentist-Supervised At-Home Whitening
Another route to go is dentist-supervised at-home whitening. In this method, you visit the dentist to have custom trays made just for your mouth, and then you use those trays at home, along with a whitening solution, to lighten and brighten your teeth.
Lastly, if you are in need of a complete smile makeover, you will want to consider veneers. These are the perfect solution for patients who have chipped, cracked, unevenly aligned, or otherwise imperfect teeth that would additionally benefit from whitening.
Veneers are made out of porcelain or other dental composites, and they consist of a super-thin shell that is permanently affixed over your natural teeth. With proper care, veneers can last for many years. Their only downside, for some patients, is their cost.
Visit any drugstore, supermarket, or big-box department store and you will find a wide array of whitening products. These range from toothpastes and mouthwashes to whitening systems that use trays or adhesive strips. All are fairly inexpensive, and they are all moderately effective — provided you have the proper expectations. A lot of people want these products to work miracles, but all they can really do is eliminate staining from smoking or drinking dark-colored beverages such as coffee, tea, red wine, or cola.
“Over-the-counter whitening products will not reverse discoloration that occurs due to medication use, damage to the tooth, genetics, cavities, or aging,” explains Dr. Jae Pak, who practices cosmetic dentistry in NYC. “If you need to counteract the yellowing effects of these more serious causes, you will have to visit a dentist.”
What are the downsides to OTC strips and other products? For starters, they might not be as effective as you would like. The strips can slide around on the teeth, or even slide off of them, resulting in discomfort and pain when they contact the gums. There is also increasing evidence that OTC whitening strips can cause damage to the protein in teeth.
In recent years, the desire for a sparkling smile has led to some faddish — but also quite dangerous — DIY tooth care methods. Some of the ways people are trying to whiten their teeth include:
- Activated charcoal products
- Lemon juice or other citrus-based liquids
- At-home UV bleaching systems
- Whitening gel pens
- Baking soda
- Chlorine bleach
None of these radical DIY tactics are going to produce long-term results, and many of them will weaken your tooth enamel. Tooth enamel cannot be regenerated, and once you have lost it, you will experience painful sensitivity, increased risk of decay, potential tooth loss, and serious discoloration.
Aim for a Healthy Smile, Not a Perfect One
It’s understandable that people want a picture-perfect, sparkling-white smile. But such a perfect looking set of teeth actually appears unnatural. Your teeth are a part of you and your personality, so while it’s fine to have them whitened under dental supervision or to use a whitening toothpaste once in a while to remove surface stains, don’t do anything rash. You will be much better off with a healthy mouth, and all that takes is regular brushing and flossing.