The 10 commandments of white teeth

A brighter smile makes you look younger, fresher, prettier...the list goes on. Here are experts' top teeth-whitening rules.
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Brush the right way

Believe it or not, the way most people brush their teeth strips enamel, which can make teeth yellow over time. Here's how to keep them pearly white: First, whether you use an electric or manual toothbrush, make sure it has a soft head. Hard brushes are like sandpaper on your enamel. Next, if you only spend a few seconds brushing your teeth, it's time to step it up: The American Dental Association recommends brushing for two minutes at least twice a day— gently. Scrubbing teeth like a frying pan not only wears on your enamel, it's bad for your gums. If you're feeling extra virtuous, brush after lunch.

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Go electric

Don't get us wrong: Even though you can get excellent results from manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes really get the job done. "Not only do they provide exceptional plaque removal and gum stimulation, but they have timers to make sure you're brushing long enough," says New York City cosmetic dentist Jeffrey Golub-Evans. We love the teeth-whitening setting of the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Rechargeable Sonic Toothbrush but if spending nearly $200 on a toothbrush isn't in your budget, the Oral-B Professional Deep Sweep Triaction 1000 is a less expensive option. Even a $6 battery-powered spin brush can make a difference.

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Use a whitening toothpaste

Duh. We love Supersmile Professional Whitening Toothpaste, which uses a combination of both calcium peroxide and baking soda to dissolve stains gently while strengthening the enamel. After brushing with the paste plus Supersmile Professional Whitening Accelerator every day for a week, we noticed a difference. Need a quick fix? Try Luster Now Instant Whitening Toothpaste. This Best of Beauty Breakthrough winner delivers the illusion of whiter teeth by depositing a bluing agent that temporarily clings to your teeth and masks yellowness.

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Crack open a bottle of hydrogen peroxide

The combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide is tried and true for a reason: It works. Mix together one part hydrogen peroxide and two parts baking soda, and brush. At less than $3 for each ingredient, it's hard to imagine a better bargain whitener. Another option? Dip a nubby washcloth in hydrogen peroxide and rub it all over your teeth. The peroxide lightens stains while the cloth helps to scrub them away. A less DIY alternative: Swish with a hydrogen peroxide mouthwash, like Listerine Whitening Vibrant Multi-Action Whitening Rinseor Rembrandt Deeply White + Peroxide.

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Try an at-home whitening kit

The most common problems with DIY bleaching are sensitivity and gum irritation. Products that promise results within a couple of hours often contain a high percentage of carbamide peroxide (a chemical that changes to hydrogen peroxide once it hits your teeth), which can irritate sensitive teeth and gums. Golub-Evans suggests finding a product with no more than 10 percent peroxide that whitens over a period of two or more weeks, like Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips. "It may take a little longer, but I guarantee that after a couple of weeks you will have the results you want—without the sensitivity," Golub-Evans says. And unlike bleach in trays that can leak onto your gums, strips are designed to stay on your teeth, so there's less chance they'll cause irritation. Just make sure your teeth are as clean and dry as possible before application so the peroxide is in direct contact with your enamel. The best time to whiten at home is one to two days after getting a professional cleaning, when some stains and plaque have already been removed.

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Avoid foods and drinks that stain

Basically, anything that can stain a white shirt—coffee, tea, red wine, cola—can also stain your teeth. "The absolute worst is something that's hot, darkly pigmented, and sticky, like hot fudge or barbecue sauce, which will adhere to your teeth and cause them to stain," says Golub-Evans. He suggests, whenever possible, choosing the lighter option: iced cappuccino over espresso, champagne over red wine, grapefruit juice over cranberry juice. When you do indulge in the dark stuff, limit contact with your teeth: use a straw, rinse immediately, and pop some mini disposable brushes, like Colgate Optic White Wisps, in your purse for on-the-go cleaning.

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Chase with water

Red wine isn't the only culprit when it comes to staining your teeth. A study at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, found that the high acid levels in white wine temporarily damage the enamel, making teeth weak and especially vulnerable to stains. Brushing right after drinking Pinot Grigio or anything else that's acidic can worsen the damage since you're essentially grinding the acids in. The good news is, your saliva will remineralize your enamel if you give it a chance. (Crazy, right?) So instead of brushing right away, wait a half hour to give your saliva a chance to work, and chase anything acidic with a glass of water to rinse away the acids. "Drinking water is the best thing you can do," says New York City cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel. (And since it takes 30 seconds for dark pigments to penetrate your enamel, water is your best weapon against staining, too.) Eating calcium-rich foods, like cheese, with your wine helps to neutralize the acids that yellow teeth.

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Rub Vaseline on your teeth

Take a lesson from Miss America and put a layer of Vaseline 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly on your teeth. Not only will it keep lipstick smudges at bay, it also creates a protective barrier against food and wine stains. We're just sayin'.

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Wear blue-based colors and glosses

As with most things, makeup helps. Choose blue-based lip colors—cherry red, wine, or berry shades. We love Clinique Long Last Lipstick in Twilight Nude for fair skin, Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Black Cherry for medium skin tones, and CoverGirl Queen Collection Lipcolor in Fine Wine for darker complexions. Skip pearly lipsticks, matte finishes, and beige, brown, or yellow undertones, which can accentuate discoloration.

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Consult a pro

The quickest route to pearly whites? If money isn't an issue, head straight to your dentist's chair. With its combination of peroxide and LED light, treatments like Philips Zoom WhiteSpeed can make your teeth up to eight shades lighter in 45 minutes flat for about $600. (For less intense whitening that's also easier on your wallet, your dentist may offer a single 20-minute session that can lighten teeth three to five shades for about $250). Opalescence Boost is another professional treatment option that chemically whitens teeth with a power-bleaching gel (containing 40 percent hydrogen peroxide). It delivers results in less than an hour for about $500. Your dentist can determine which whitening option will work best for you and how many shades lighter you can go.

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