Maintain That Winning Bright Smile After Teeth Whitening

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Valerie DeBenedette, Senior Medical Editor

Valerie DeBenedette is a science writer who specializes in keeping people informed about medicine and their health. She has more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and websites and has written about most areas of medicine. For many years, she was a contributing writer to Cosmetic Dermatology and to Drug Topics, the leading pharmacy trade magazine. She also was a contributing editor to The Physician and Sportsmedicine for many years. She has written about most fields of medicine, including dermatology, sportsmedicine, ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopedics, and women's health; as well as public health policy and the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, she is the author of Caffeine, a book for young people. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.


November 07 2007

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Congratulations! You've just had your teeth professionally bleached and you have the pearliest choppers on the block. Now what?

Tooth whitening is possibly the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure. Having your teeth bleached gets them wonderfully white, but no whitening treatment can keep your teeth white forever. That is simply a fact of life. Teeth discoloration occurs because the enamel of teeth is slightly porous and absorbs stains from foods and drink.

What Can You Do To Keep White Teeth?

The first step toward keeping your teeth white is to avoid smoking or using any form of tobacco. Smoking is one of the primary reasons teeth turn yellow.  If you smoke, this is just one more in a long list of good reasons to stop. Smoke pulled through a cigarette or pipe deposits grime and stain on the teeth.

The second biggest culprit to avoid is any of the dark drinks such as coffee, tea, colas, and red wine. These drinks can cause your teeth to darken. Other foods that stain include blueberries and beets. One rule of thumb is that if it can stain a white tee shirt, it will probably stain your teeth.

But it is easier to avoid some foods that stain than it is to avoid others. Face it: How often do you eat beets even if you like them in the first place? But coffee, tea, and cola can be harder to avoid since they are so ingrained into our culture. To avoid staining your teeth, try drinking them through a straw. This way the dark liquid will miss your front teeth. Brushing your teeth regularly (especially after that slice of blueberry pie) also helps reduce or prevent staining.

Yellow teeth seem to come hand in hand with aging. As you age, the enamel of your teeth starts to wear away a bit. This allows the yellow inner layer of your teeth, called the dentine, to show through. There is no way to remove this kind of stain outside of bonding or veneers that would cover the teeth.

Permanent stains on teeth can be caused by certain medications.The antibiotic tetracycline and its close relatives minocycline and doxycycline can cause stains in teeth as the teeth are forming, but not later. Babies born of mothers who took these drugs in pregnancy end up with teeth that can be a blue-gray in color, as can the permanent teeth in young children. This is why tetracycline and its relatives are generally not given to pregnant women or children under age 8. There are some reports that minocycline can cause tooth stains even in adults, however. Bonding and veneers can help here, too.

Curiously, fluoride —the mineral that helps build strong teeth—can also cause tooth stains if taken in excess. Too much fluoride toothpaste can cause white or brown spots on teeth, but only if eaten. Children who use fluoride toothpaste often inadvertently swallow it rather than spit it out. Parents should watch young children while they brush their teeth to ensure they are not swallowing the toothpaste.

Poor dental hygiene can also cause yellow teeth. Brush your teeth for two full minutes after each meal and floss daily. This prevents build-up of plaque, that icky stuff that can make your teeth look dingy. To help prevent staining as much as possible, use toothpaste that advertises its whitening power. And don't forget scheduling a visit to the dentist's office for a good cleaning at least once a year.

You may still need to have a touch-up on your teeth about a year after having them bleached, but taking this advice will keep those pearly whites looking pearly white longer.