One of the first things we notice about people we meet is their smile. Not only can a smile (or lack thereof) indicate a person’s mood at the time, but it can also affect how they are perceived by others during that ever-important first impression.
A genuine and healthy-looking smile can instill confidence and trust and give others a feeling of friendliness and warmth; while a smile that is false or unhealthy –looking can give the opposite impression. Having a great smile not only affects how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. I know too many people who won’t smile in photographs (or skip photographs entirely), or who make conscious efforts not to smile or laugh during interactions with others because they are self-conscious about stained teeth or other dental issues.
I realize that not everyone was blessed with naturally straight teeth.
I, personally, got the short end of the stick when it came to acne when I was a teenager and even as an adult, which affected my self-confidence. However, I was very fortunate to have been born with naturally straight teeth, so I tried to smile a lot and smile really big in photographs because I felt my smile distracted the eye from my breakouts. I think it worked to a certain degree, because when I talk to people I knew back in the day, many of them don’t remember how bad my skin was (they probably remembered the layers of poorly-matched foundation and concealer I wore to conceal the blemishes instead).
So since I believed my smile was one of my best features, I did my best to make it sparkle. Many parents have a tough time getting their kids to brush their teeth properly, but that was never a problem for my mom with me because I did it judiciously. Whenever we had a dentist come to our school to talk about the importance of oral hygiene I absorbed the information like a sponge. I was also one of the only kids who actually enjoyed going to the dentist because I enjoyed the actual cleaning (weird, right? And this was way before dentists’ offices had cool aquariums, toys, computers, and TVs to distract kids). That’s still the case, but now my hygienist always schedules me for more time because I like to ask her for tips about how to keep my teeth healthy and looking great. Not only are my teeth straight and healthy (no cavities at almost 35 years old), but they are also quite white.
Some might call it luck, but it’s not.
My dental hygienist and dentist both told me that the health and appearance of our teeth (other than how straight they are) are direct results of the foods we eat and how well (or how poorly) we care for our teeth and gums. It is highly important to get regular dental exams and cleanings (I go every 6 months), but just like with skincare, you have to have good habits at home if you want to maintain that just-cleaned look and feel you get from the dentist.
These good home care habits include brushing at least twice a day; reducing your intake of highly acidic, sticky, sugary foods; reducing your intake of darkly pigmented foods that are known to stain things (red wine, coffee, tea), no smoking (this should be a no-brainer), and flossing regularly among others. If you do drink coffee or red wine, or eat something acidic or sticky, it is good to rinse out your mouth right away with water, and then brush your teeth.
What about whitening?
Of course one of the factors that determines how attractive one’s smile is perceived is the whiteness factor. We see ridiculously white teeth everywhere in the media. I find it especially humorous when you see someone try out for a show like American Idol and his or teeth are kind of gnarly (stained, snaggly, etc) during the auditions and Hollywood week and then once they make it to the live shows their teeth glisten like a snowy meadow on a sunny day. In magazine ads nearly every smile you see has been retouched to make it inhumanly white.
Well I have to admit I am a fan of white teeth too. Yup, the media got me in this instance. I am all about white teeth and up until about 2 years ago, I tried every at-home whitening product on the market. I tried toothpastes, mouthwashes, whitening flosses, whitening gels and trays, whitening strips, whitening lights, you name it. I didn’t ever have my teeth professionally whitened but that was only due to the cost and the fact that my dentist told me flat out that it was ridiculous to spend that kind of money on whitening if I was still drinking coffee, tea, and red wine. Well back then I did all of the above so I figured I’d just whiten with the less expensive OTC kits and just brush more often. Any of you who have used these products I’m sure are familiar with the horrible tooth and gum sensitivity that accompanies them (from the peroxide and other irritant chemicals in the products). And the discomfort got worse after every treatment…but I still endured it for my white smile.
Well not anymore. I haven’t whitened my teeth using an actual whitening product or ingredient in two years, but my teeth look just as white as they did after my last treatment. I didn’t actually intend to not whiten them. I had planned on doing a treatment every 6 months or so but I found I didn’t need to anymore because my teeth stayed white.
Why is this?
I believe my attention to oral hygiene has a lot to do with it. I go for my regular cleanings, I floss daily, I brush at least twice a day using my Sonicare toothbrush (I think this is one of the best investments I have ever made for my health…my kids use it too and love it) with one of my favorite natural toothpastes (I use either Jason’s Sea Fresh or VitaCare…VitaCare is my preference), and I rinse with mouthwash daily (using the same brands).
I also no longer drink coffee or red wine. I do drink tea, but the ones I drink are lighter in color and if I am having a lot of it I just add another brushing to my regimen. I also eat much less sugary and sticky foods now, and if I have them (like honey or maple syrup) I brush after.
I also have shifted my diet to include many more plant foods. Fruits and vegetables have firm and slightly abrasive textures naturally (remember that old saying that apples are “nature’s toothbrush”?), and contain vitamins and naturally-occurring acids (many of which alkalize in the body) like malic acid and citric acid that help naturally dissolve stains and other debris. They also stimulate the production of saliva, which helps prevent bacteria and food from sticking to teeth and inside gums. Plant foods also contain lots of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which help keep teeth (and bones) strong and dense. I switched my salt from regular table salt to the mineral-rich pink Himalayan salt (contains 86 trace minerals) for the same reason.
I also drink lots of water, which helps further prevent these substances from sticking, in addition to preventing acidic build up in the mouth. I try to do oil pulling with sesame or coconut oil when I remember to as well. This also helps to prevent foods and substances from sticking to the teeth and in the gum line and “seals” the porous enamel which helps protect it throughout the day.
I know there are many natural homemade tooth whitening recipes out there like baking soda and peroxide, or baking soda and lemon juice, but they all come with warnings that the acidic and abrasive nature of the substances could cause sensitivity or erosion to the enamel of used too much. Aren’t these the same warnings that the commercial products carry?
I would rather see people work harder on a daily basis by making smart food choices and giving more careful attention to brushing and flossing than compromising the strength of their enamel by using sporadic treatments (natural or commercial) with harsh ingredients. I don’t even recommend everyday whitening toothpastes (except the VitaCare one because it doesn’t contain harsh whitening ingredients) or mouthwashes, because I think they can weaken the enamel after repeated use. I think that using a regular toothpaste with a more effective toothbrush like the Sonicare or something with similar technology will yield better results with far less irritation and damage to the enamel.
Many people complain about the cost of toothbrushes like the Sonicare, but there are many options in different price ranges (I use the least expensive one and it is great). Plus, if you compare that to the cost and pain of dental work, I’m sure you’ll agree that the toothbrush is worth it.
I don’t believe that people need to have perfectly straight teeth to have an attractive and healthy smile. Teeth and gums that are healthy and bright (naturally bright, not necessarily so white that they glow in the dark) make beautiful smiles.
If you are going to do a whitening treatment and are OK dealing with the discomfort and other possible side effects of the ingredients, I would recommend not going for the super duper professional advanced strength product. I’ve tried them all, and truthfully, they don’t whiten any faster, any more, or make teeth stay whiter any longer than the ones designed for more sensitive teeth (although the package will tell you they do). I would go for one designed for sensitive teeth, or maybe spring for a professional treatment using the LED lights in place of the bleaching ingredients, and then start the good habits mentioned above right away.
Remember, we are people, not sharks. We do not have rows and rows of teeth ready to replace broken or damaged ones. Once we ruin our teeth, that’s it. We don’t get new ones. So take good care of the ones you have. The better care you take, the prettier your smile will be.
Products to try: