Although it’s much more glamorous to gush about a beauty or self-care routine, an oral care routine is just as vital for your overall health — and something I spent an extensive amount of time perfecting during the last two years after seeing my smile on Zoom after Zoom. Virtually and in person, I noticed my excessive coffee- and wine-habits starting to stain my teeth and my lack of flossing wasn’t helping either. Fortunately, after much research and phone conversations with my local dentist to find an at home teeth whitening routine that works, I’ve realized it’s actually quite simple to update and improve a dental regime if you’re willing to invest in the right products (more on that later.)
The first thing to note is that there are two types of stains: intrinsic (enamel stains) and extrinsic (surface stains.) Intrinsic stains happen inside the tooth, within the enamel or dentin, and can occur via genetics, aging, or other issues. To remove them, you can visit your dentist for a professional cleaning or use bleaching agents like carbamide or hydrogen peroxide. On the other hand, extrinsic stains happen on the surface of the tooth and usually form from pigmented foods, beverages, and tobacco, getting worse over time if you don’t address them.
Luckily, in addition to regular brushing and flossing, there are a few more things that will improve discoloration and gum health. Ahead, my five-step routine to shinier and whiter teeth. Bonus: it only takes 10 minutes!
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Step 1: Brushing
Select The Right Toothbrush
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush. “Brushing should only take about two minutes — think of your mouth as being divided into four sections: top right, top left, bottom right, and bottom left,” says Dr. Ryan Reichelt, Tend's director of clinical practices. “Focus on brushing each section for 30 seconds and you are on your way to dental perfection.”
With Dr. Reichelt’s expert recommendation, I use Burst Sonic Toothbrush, which has 33,000 sonic vibrations per minute. What I love about this toothbrush is it buzzes every 30 seconds, signaling you to switch sections until you complete all four sections in two minutes. Essentially, it takes out all the guesswork for you for an incredible, yet gentle clean. As a sonic brush, it also provides a deeper clean by getting between the tooth and gum line in a way a traditional toothbrush cannot.
The ADA also recommends replacing it every three to four months as a worn-down toothbrush doesn’t lift stains and polish teeth as well and has a greater chance of bacteria buildup.
Invest In A Whitening Toothpaste
Dr. Reichelt recommends looking for toothpaste with fresh eucalyptus or cooling methanol to leave your breath clean and fresh. Other things to look for on a toothpaste label: cavity protection, enamel safe, fights plaque and tartar, reduces mouth bacteria, and promotes gum health. Reinforcing enamel repair and production is one of the best ways to prevent stains.
It’s important to note that brushing your teeth twice a day with generic toothpaste, while beneficial, will only treat the surface level stains — it won’t whiten the entire tooth. The only toothpaste proven to whiten the entire tooth is a hydroxyapatite (natural occurring mineral and one of the building blocks of tooth enamel, dentin, and cementum) formula.
As for ingredients to avoid, Dr. Reichelt places charcoal on the no-list. “[Charcoal is] unnecessarily abrasive and can start stripping away tooth structure, damaging precious enamel,” the expert tells TZR. “Ingredients to invest in are fluoride and hydroxyapatite which actively fight and even reverse cavities.”
Step 2: Floss Teeth & Scrape Tongue
If you want teeth to be brighter, it’s important to brush twice a day and floss once a day. Not only will this tackle staining but promote overall oral health as well. Dr. Reichelt recommends flossing once at night. “In combination with brushing, flossing helps set a healthy stage for your teeth to remineralize and strengthen while you sleep,” the expert tells TZR. Tongue scraping, the last step in my routine, can help remove harmful bacteria that could potentially inflame gums, and prevent cavities.
Step 3: Mouthwash Rinse
Mouthwashes can be a great way to refresh your breath, but shouldn’t be relied on to fully clean your mouth. Dr. Reichelt suggests alcohol-free mouthwashes, like Tend Tonic, that don’t irritate your gums or affect your saliva flow. Beneficial ingredients like essential oils, fluoride, and xylitol are proven to help slow bacterial buildup and actually soothe your gums.
Step 4: At-Home Whitening Products
Although professional whitening sessions will yield the brightest results, at-home whitening strips or trays can also be effective. In-office, a peroxide solution is placed on teeth via laser or light to remove surface stains. But at-home, a lower concentration of peroxide is used to remove plaque and tartar.
A whitening product is not something you’ll use daily, but two to three times a year. I like to treat myself to Burst Coconut Whitening Strips or Elims Magic Melt-Away Teeth Whitening Masks that are both enamel safe and whiten my teeth up to seven shades brighter. I’ve found that whitening strips or trays combined with daily use of a whiten toothpaste is a great affordable way to maintain a bright smile.
Step 5: Keep A Mindful Diet
Sadly, as thorough as you can be with the above four steps, the wrong diet could throw off the whole process. To keep a clean mouth and maintain a white smile, be mindful of your coffee, soda, wine, and tobacco intact. Sugary foods can also interact with the bacteria in your mouth to produce acid, causing teeth to yellow and lose enamel.
Of course, if you do indulge in these and other pigmented food and drinks, be sure to brush directly after to minimize stains. If you want your diet to work for you, consume more crunchy fruits and vegetables (apples, celery, and carrots) as the rough texture can help remove debris in between brushing and flossing.
Similar to the 28-day rule of testing skin care products (the time it takes for your moisture barrier to renew), oral care routines don’t necessarily produce results overnight and have to be maintained for an extended period of time. However, the more and more consistent you are, the better (whiter and plaque-free) your teeth will look and feel.