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It’s not only smokers who end up with stained teeth, all manner of substances can discolor them. But before you consider teeth whitening procedures, whether at home or at the dentist’s, you need to know the options and potential hazards.

The desire to have a sparkling white smile is nothing new – the ancient Romans used a mixture of goats’ milk and urine to keep their teeth gorgeous!  It’s an inevitable fact that as we get older, the outer layer of white tooth enamel becomes thinner, allowing the yellow-colored dentin beneath to show through, making teeth appear darker.  Substances which stain the teeth get though the gaps between the tooth enamel crystals and stain the dentin beneath. 

Worst tooth stainers

It is said that anything which will stain a white tee shirt, will stain teeth.  We all know the obvious culprits like tea, coffee, red wine and tobacco.

but did you know that tomato sauce and ketchup, cola , berries, chocolate and balsamic vinegar can all leave their mark on teeth?

Ironically some constituents of dental preparations such as mouthwashes can also stain the teeth – an example being chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride.  Also some medicines such as the antibiotics minocycline and doxycycline, are associated with tooth staining. No wonder that many of us turn to professionals and home-use kits to attempt to restore former whiteness to our mouths.

Whitening versus bleaching

There is a difference between tooth whitening and bleaching and it’s important to understand the difference as it has implications in terms of cost, and potential hazards. Tooth whitening just restores the teeth to their original color by removing stains and dirt, hence special toothpastes can incorporate whitening ingredients. 

Tooth bleaching on the other hand, means whitening teeth beyond their natural color.

Tooth whitening

All toothpastes contain mild abrasive particles such as aluminium oxide, calcium carbonate or  phosphate and silica, which will lift surface stains and help to maintain tooth whiteness. So regular toothbrushing is the easiest way to prevent and treat mild staining.

Special whitening toothpastes contain other chemicals or abrasives designed to have more of a whitening effect, such as bicarbonate of soda. But like regular toothpastes they will only remove staining and cannot change the color of teeth.

DIY tooth whiteners

If you fancy a little harmless tooth whitening at home, private dentist Adina Carrel, DMD, from Manhattan Dental Arts in New York recommends making use of the malic acid contained in strawberries.  

She says you simply mix crushed strawberries with baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), apply to the teeth with a soft toothbrush and leave for five minutes.  Then remove the mix by brushing the teeth.

Adina warns not to use this treatment more than once a week, as the acid could damage the teeth if over-used.

Regularly eating crunchy foods like apples, carrots and celery may also help to preserve the whiteness of teeth by stimulating saliva flow, which has a cleaning action.  These foods also act as mild abrasives to ‘scrub’ the teeth clean.  The malic acid in apples might also have a whitening effect.

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