Oh, the unspeakable acts I’d commit for a whiter smile. (I may or may not be guilty of plastering on two-hour Crest Whitestrips and sitting, mute, through a meeting.) And if the number of people trolling the dental-hygiene aisle at Walgreens last weekend was any indication, I am not alone. Call it the Award Season Effect, but unlike Jessica Chastain’s cheekbones or Angelina’s leg(s), a whiter smile is actually attainable. I spoke to New York dentist Lee Gause, who cares for the gorgeous grins of Ford Models and regular folk alike, about getting a whiter, healthier smile.
Start with an at-home whitening product. White strips do work. And there are options beyond that, too, like Boots Pearl Drops Beauty Sleep Overnight Serum—a nice mix of whitening peroxide and tooth-strengthening fluoride that tastes not half bad. For the day-in-day-out task of whitening, Gause recommends stashing a whitening pen, like Finishing Touch Smile Pen, in your bag (“take this to the bathroom after two glasses of red wine”). Don’t bother chewing whitening gum, though. It doesn’t sit on the teeth long enough to make a difference.
And during a whitening routine, you really can’t have coffee. Or anything staining, for that matter. Peroxide—the actual whitening agent—opens your teeth’s pores (yes, teeth have pores), which means they’ll absorb anything, so you should also skip red wine (and some white wines, so let’s just say wine), black tea, white tea, ketchup, mustard, and hot chocolate.
Stash extra toothbrushes everywhere. If you’re serious about whitening, frequent brushing is a must. A whitening toothpaste isn’t strong enough to dramatically whiten teeth on its own, but it’ll help scrub away new stains with a mild abrasive ingredient called silica. New formulas also come with fluoride (look for .018 percent or above). Gause recommends Crest toothpaste; try 3D White Enamel Renewal.
Use a whitening prerinse before brushing and a mouthwash afterward. “My recommended protocol is whitening pre-rinse, flossing, brushing, and mouthwash,” says Gause. A prerinse, with active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, “loosens buildup and food, so brushing will be even more effective.” (Listerine Whitening Plus Restoring Fluoride Rinse is one example.) Mouthwash gets into the gaps cleaned out by brushing and flossing; if it’s a fluoride wash, the fluoride sits there repairing decay. “Really swish that fluoride-packed mouthwash around after brushing, too, but wait an hour before drinking anything. Fluoride has to soak into weakened tooth structure.”
Remember that healthy pink gums make white teeth appear brighter.
“It’s the backdrop for a beautiful smile, and bleeding gums mean you have gingivitis,” says Gause. Heal inflamed gums with twice-daily flossing and use mouthwash after brushing.
If you have an event, say, tomorrow, have your dentist do the whitening. “Whitening is much, much faster in the office,” Gause says. “Technically, we’re using 20 to 35 percent peroxide under a UV light. By contrast, over-the-counter strips contain no more than 10 percent peroxide.”
Chomp on a crunchy midday snack. Chewing hard, raw fruits or vegetables like apples and carrots produces more saliva. This helps wash away bacteria. It’s like natural exfoliation.
Wear blue-based lip colors. I love corals and matte red-oranges, but both are smile saboteurs. Colors with names like cherry, wine, and berry have blue undertones, making teeth appear whiter, especially in sheer, glossy finishes.