Be it an increase in coffee drinking or smoking, there are a lot of factors that can affect how white your teeth look; even genetics play a role. But that doesn't mean you're stuck with a less-than-satisfactory smile if your teeth are looking a little yellow. There are plenty of at-home teeth-whitening kits and even DIY hacks that can help lighten discoloration on your teeth.
Before you jump right in and slap on a whitening strip, there are a few things you should know, like how to whiten your teeth properly at home. There are different types of teeth whitening — chemical and mechanical — and each one serves a different purpose. While it may not seem like a huge deal, you are using chemicals in your mouth, and it's always better to be informed. Ahead, cosmetic dentist Brian Harris shares the dos and don'ts.
How to Pick the Best Type of Teeth-Whitening Method For You
Remember the two different types of teeth whitening we mentioned, chemical and mechanical? Each one is used for different types of stains — intrinsic discoloration and extrinsic discoloration. "Intrinsic discoloration is caused by genetics, trauma, or medication side effects," Dr. Harris said. "This refers to the actual internal color of the teeth, and these stains can only be brightened with chemical teeth whitening."
Then there's extrinsic discoloration. "This is what most of us experience and is caused by things that stain the teeth like foods with dyes, coffee, tea, and smoking," Dr. Harris said. "These kinds of stains are best treated with mechanical teeth whitening." This can include whitening toothpastes.
How to Avoid Damaging Your Teeth
You don't want to use a whitening product that is too abrasive for your teeth — that's where the RDA value comes in. RDA values for common toothpastes deem 0-70 as low abrasive, 70-100 as medium abrasive, 100-150 as highly abrasive, and 150-250 as a harmful limit. "The key is to find one that is abrasive enough to remove stains but not so abrasive that it damages the enamel," Dr. Harris said. "Stay away from activated charcoal toothpastes and those with a high RDA value as they will be too abrasive."
Using a whitening agent that's too abrasive can wear down the enamel of your teeth and actually cause them to appear more yellow, Dr. Harris explained.
Common Mistakes People Make When Whitening Their Teeth at Home
Whitening strips can work to brighten the overall color of your teeth, but make sure you use them properly. "Falling asleep with the whitening strips on or leaving them on for too long can cause extreme sensitivity, so make sure to follow instructions given," Dr. Harris said. "Another mistake is allowing the strips to cover up the gums, which can irritate them and, at times, burn them."
Dos and Don'ts For Before and After Whitening Your Teeth
Always read the product recommendations and follow specific instructions carefully (this goes for every at-home beauty treatment, BTW). "Before you whiten your teeth with gel or strips, make sure you brush them well, which will help the product work more effectively," Dr. Harris said.
For better results, he also recommended staying away from certain items immediately following whitening your teeth. "After whitening, stay away from foods that stain for a couple days," Dr. Harris said. "A good rule of thumb is that if it's going to stain a white shirt, it's going to stain your teeth."