More than fame and glamour, what we covet most on red carpet habitués like Bradley Cooper, Robert Pattinson, George Clooney and Tom Cruise is a set of dazzling white teeth.
The truth behind many mega-watt Hollywood smiles, however, is a staggering dental bill. Tom Cruise, for example, reportedly spent more than US$30,000 aligning and whitening his biters. While that is small change for him, it’s more than the average Joe can afford on top of his usual living expenses.
Undaunted, we scoured the Internet for options and found a few unorthodox DIY methods that teeter between science and witchery. To be safe, we ran them by a dental surgeon. So despair not. Gleaming ivory perfection can be attained yet.
what causes Teeth to Yellow
“Staining is the leading cause of discolouration,” said Dr Ong Teng Sin, dental surgeon at One-North Dental. He explained that discolouration comes in two forms – extrinsic and intrinsic. It may also be a result of ageing.
“Extrinsic teeth stains are acquired when particles accumulate in the pellicle – the film of protein that covers the tooth enamel. These particles can come from cigarette smoke or pigment-rich foods such as tea, coffee and red wine, even tomatoes. Unchecked, such particles can accumulate and crystallise, and become increasingly difficult to remove over time,” he explained.
“There are of course ways to address this nature of stains,” offered Dr Ong. Some of the latest technology include dual-light treatments. “Aside from such dental treatments, there are some DIY methods you can try at home.”
One such is using physical abrasives such as bicarbonate of soda or activated charcoal powder. It’s quite straightforward: the powders present micro granules that physically polish away surface stains to leave behind a cleaner enamel. All you have to do is mix them into a paste with water or toothpaste and get scrubbing.
Other DIY methods include the use of chemicals such as organic acids and bleaching agents. “Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent that’s often found in toothpaste, mouthwashes and at-home kits,” Dr Ong acknowledged. It works by oxidising the stains, thus giving them a paler appearance. What is risky is that people tend to use hydrogen peroxide overzealously. “This can potentially cause gum ulcers and enamel erosion, which is irreversible,” he cautioned.
Painful sensitivity aside, enamel loss ironically also results in yellower teeth. When the enamel is worn out, the tooth’s yellow-ish bony tissue called dentin becomes exposed. Hence, the loss of enamel will leave your teeth looking yellower than ever.
WHAT ABOUT ORGANIC ACIDS?
If chemical bleaches are harmful because they corrode the tooth enamel, surely organic acids are safe?
Dr Ong shook his head. “Although we’ve come to think anything organic is good for us, gargling with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar mixtures can be quite damaging. Acid corrodes whether they are organic or artificially formulated,” he said.
We’ve also been fooled about whitening toothpastes. “They are widely marketed as safe long-term solutions for keeping your teeth bright, but the damage they cause is one of the main reasons that drive people to see their dentists,” he warned.
A Little Deeper
What about intrinsic stains, the other reason behind tooth discolouration? This form of stain occurs below the tooth’s surface and is usually caused during a person’s formative years. Antibiotics such as tetracycline and doxycycline, for example, have caused discolouration to the teeth of children.
Other factors include as age, excess exposure to fluoride and injury (bleeding within a tooth causes it to appear darker). In such cases, Dr Ong points out that using abrasives is futile. Bleaching, whether it’s an in-office or at-home treatment, is more effective.
Should the problem persist, however, one can consider using veneers. “Veneers don’t just prevent the enamel from wearing thinner. They also offer an additional protective layer over existing teeth,” he said.
Veneers, however, cannot be whitened once they become old and stained in time. Should you opt for veneers as a solution, you will probably need to commit to lifestyle habits that preclude smoking and drinking red wine, tea, coffee, etc. You could of course also get new veneers every time they are stained, but that’s going to cost you.
The Crooked Truth
In the case of uneven teeth, dullness may be the result of shadows rather than stains. “The first course of action in this case isn’t getting your teeth whitened, but having them aligned instead,” he clarified. “This can be an inconvenient and costly process, but it is the most sensible way to brighten your smile.”
Dare To Smile
It boils down to dental health. White or yellow, healthy teeth look better than teeth that are devastated by smoking, sugar guzzling, or poor dental hygiene. By all means, do something to whiten your teeth, beginning with biannual dental cleansing. But consider making lifestyle changes to keep them strong and healthy as well.
how do these teeth whitening methods stack up?
Method: Bicarbonate of Soda
This method is popular because it is cheap, easy and effective. Simply form a paste with water or toothpaste, brush the teeth with it, then rinse off. The granules should erase surface stains over time.
Dentist approved? Yes. Dr Ong warned, however, that it should be done under professional supervision.
“It is human nature to want more and to want it immediately. People tend to brush more frequently and for longer periods of time, in the hope of achieving whiter teeth more quickly,” he said. “But for safety reasons, it’s better to take it slow and accept that change will be gradual, not dramatic,” he added.
Method: Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is believed to remove stains owing to its alleged detoxifying properties. Its abrasive grains are probably capable of scrubbing away surface stains.
Dentist approved? To some degree. Dr Ong classified activated charcoal powder as an abrasive along with bicarbonate of soda. And when used under professional supervision, it will offer some gradual improvement. He doesn’t, however, subscribe to the idea of detoxifying your teeth to make them whiter. “There’s no such thing. The substance should never stay in your mouth long enough to make a difference anyway.”
Method: Food Acids
It sounds logical that acids inherent in some foods can remove stains due to their corrosive nature. Methods include rubbing the teeth with fresh strawberries or gargling with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.
Dentist approved? No. “It’s an interesting idea,” said Dr Ong. “But what we’ve seen is how it has damaged teeth.” While acids should logically dissolve surface stains, what they actually do is corrode the tooth enamel, which will eventually expose the yellow-hued dentin. Not only will this cause teeth sensitivity, it is also counterproductive if teeth whitening is the goal. If fact, Dr Ong advised rinsing one’s mouth after consuming anything acidic.
Method: Banana Peel
It is believed that teeth can appear brighter after absorbing minerals such as potassium and manganese, such as from rubbing them with a banana peel. Its fibrous surface supposedly also offers a polishing effect.
Dentist approved? No. “There is no way that the enamel can absorb minerals via such brief physical contact,” said Dr Ong. “Even if it were possible, there’s no scientific evidence that they brighten the teeth,” he added. “Furthermore, the fibres on banana peel are too soft to move stains. You’re better off simply cleaning your teeth with a toothbrush.”
Method: Hydrogen Peroxide
The chemical works as a bleaching agent to remove stubborn and unsightly stains. It’s found in different products and can be applied in various forms, including teeth whitening strips, toothpaste and mouthwash.
Dentist approved? Yes, but in controlled conditions. Bleaching happens when hydrogen peroxide oxidises the stains, causing the colour to lighten. However, the chemical is also corrosive and may cause more damage than good when used improperly. Cases include using products that are too potent or leaving the products on for longer than prescribed, causing enamel to thin and gums to corrode. The chemical is effective, but do seek a dentist’s advice for best results.