The Truth About All-Natural Teeth Whiteners

Worried about stains? Some things you should try -- and some you definitely shouldn't, no matter what you've heard.

By Corrie Pikul

The Tooth Whitener You Probably Have in Your Purse
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What to try: Sugarless gum.

Why: Chewing gum causes you to produce more saliva, which is a natural buffer against stains, explains Matthew Messina, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. When your mouth gets dry, food particles and bacteria can settle on teeth, affecting the enamel. Common causes of dry mouth are talking on the phone, medication (prescription drugs for depression, anxiety, heart problems and nerve pain; OTC meds like antihistamines and decongestants) and-- ready for this? -- cardio exercise. Studies have shown that when athletes run, their saliva levels decrease. In addition to chewing gum, sip water throughout the day and swish it around your mouth after eating.

What not to try:Dentists recommend against drinking energy drinks while exercising (or at any time). They're highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel, and they also often contain dyes, which could lead to stains over time.
The Dark Horse Whitener That We Always Underestimate
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What to try: Good ol' baking soda.

Why: Physically scrubbing your teeth may actually have some effect on surface stains, says Messina. However, it's essential that the substance not be so gritty that it wears away enamel. Baking soda mixed with water is just abrasive enough, and Messina says that baking soda toothpastes that have the American Dental Association seal have been found safe to use with a soft toothbrush. (You can also try "whitening toothpastes" that have enzymes to help dissolve surface stains.)

What not to try: Brushing with sea salt, rinsing with activated charcoal (Messina says that there's zero clinical research behind it). They sound so wacky they just might work, but Messina says that these DIY don'ts could cause serious, permanent damage to your enamel.
The Last Best Hope for Deeply Stained Teeth
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What to try: An in-office whitening treatment.

Why: Deep stains penetrate under the enamel and get stuck in the chicken-wire-like structure of your tooth. Professional-grade treatments use an effervescent whitening agent (a cousin of peroxide) that bubbles out the enamel and lifts the stain out of the chicken wire, explains Messina. (At-home whitening kits work the same way, but they're not nearly as powerful.) Be aware that stains aren't always due to a long-term love affair with coffee and red wine; Messina says that discoloration can also be a sign of a developmental issue, infection, receding gums (due to crowding, grinding or age) or periodontal disease. Your dentist can help get to the root causes of your stains and advise you on next steps.

What not to try: These Internet-approved fixes just don't work: pure bleach (it could burn the inside of your mouth); rinsing with lemon juice (it's an acid that can chemically dissolve enamel, Messina says); scrubbing strawberries on your teeth (they don't have any sort of magical plaque-destroying vitamins, but they do have some potent stain-producing acids and natural coloring).
Tea
Tea has many great health benefits, but black teas and other dark-hued teas can cause teeth staining. Try adding some milk into these dark teas or sticking to green, white, or herbal teas. Photo Credit: iStock_thinkstockClick Here to see More of the Foods That Stain Your Teeth
Berries
Berries like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and other brightly colored fruits can stain teeth. The juices from berry pies or tarts can also cause discoloration. Try opting for light colored grapes instead or just be sure to brush and floss because the acidic components can harm tooth enamel. Photo Credit: iStock_thinkstock
Red Wine
Who can resist a glass of red wine with a nice dinner? Just make sure to drink water and swoosh it around in your mouth in between sips, because the acidic content of red wine can cause staining and wear away tooth enamel. Photo Credit: iStock_thinkstockClick Here to see More of the Foods That Stain Your Teeth
Hard Candy
You know how candy sometimes turns your mouth and tongue a different color? Well, it does the same to your teeth. Eat these candies in moderation to avoid permanent teeth staining. Photo Credit: iStock_thinkstock
Coffee
Dark roast coffee is a known culprit of staining teeth. Try adding some milk or cream to help dilute some of the pigment, and make sure to drink water afterwards. Click Here to see More of the Foods That Stain Your Teeth Photo Credit: iStock_thinkstock