If you take a look around the toothpaste aisle of any drugstore in the United Stated, it's not hard to see that Americans have become obsessed with obtaining pearly white teeth. In fact, a study in 2013 found that almost 90 percent of orthodontists nationwide have had patients who specifically requested tooth whitening treatments. But between mouthwashes, toothpastes, and even chewing gums that claim to give you that smile you've always wanted, how do you know what really works? If you break it down, there are two types of discoloration: stains on the surface of the teeth and those below the enamel. The first are mostly caused by smoking and the absorption of food or beverages on the enamel surface. The others are related to the optical properties of the enamel and the underlying dentin, and how they interact with light. A number of things, including tooth decay, excessive fluoride ingestion, and aging can alter the intrinsic color of your teeth. So how do you remove the stains and get below the enamel? We talked to Dr. Gerard Kugel, a dentist at the Boston Center for Oral Health and Dr. Gianluca Plotino, a private-practice dentist in Rome to get to the truth.
Homemade tooth-whitening tools
Many different tooth-whitening techniques are promoted online, such as making toothpaste by mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, brushing your teeth with apple cider vinegar or rubbing your teeth with orange peels or other fruits. However, researchers haven't done the necessary studies to show that these techniques are effective or safe, Dr. Kugel says.
Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpastes can remove surface stains, but these toothpastes contain additional ingredients not typically found in your cupboard. Adding hydrogen peroxide to baking soda likely won't make much a difference, given that the compound isn't in contact with your teeth for very long. Additionally, the citrus acid of orange peels may be able to make your teeth chalky white, but "they will probably also do a lot of damage to the enamel," Dr. Kugel says. "In my opinion, any homemade product can be harmful, because it can be easily misused or overused," Dr. Plotino says, adding that consumers should also be wary of tooth-bleaching businesses operated in nondental settings.
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