Teeth Whitening: At Home or at the Dentist?

before & after smile whiteningThere are lots of reasons you might want to whiten your teeth. Maybe there’s a special event coming up. Maybe you want the boost of confidence that can come from brighter smile.

But as with most things, moderation is key.

After all, a blinding white smile isn’t the norm. It’s natural for teeth to have some color – and to darken a bit with age (yet another reason some opt for whitening). And going overboard with home bleaching does have its downsides.

For instance, a study published late last year in the Australian Dental Journal found that repeatedly whitening teeth at home may contribute to oxidative stress – a state in which more free radicals are produced than the body can counteract or detox. Left unchecked, it ultimately paves the way for a wide range of health problems, from neurodegenerative diseases to cancer.

For this study, participants were given a 9% hydrogen peroxide gel to use every night for two weeks, 30 minutes each night. Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the test period to evaluate for redox status. All redox measures were significantly higher at the end of the study.

At-home bleaching revealed the potential to disturb oxidant–antioxidant balance and induce oxidative stress. Its clinical relevance is unfavourable and potential side-effects of at-home bleaching should be considered.

This is one reason why smile whitening is usually best done under a dentist’s care. Not only can we oversee safety; we can make sure you get a good aesthetic result, too – all teeth matching in color and not so white that they clash with your natural complexion.

That said, there are things you can do at home to keep your teeth naturally bright, such as oil pulling with coconut oil or using activated charcoal. Nutrient-dense foods high in malic acid – foods like strawberries, apples, and broccoli – may also help reduce stains on your teeth (not to mention help counteract chronic inflammation, due to their antioxidant content, as well).

Suffice it to say, it can also help to go easy on drinks that tend to stain teeth and erode dental enamel – teas, coffees, soft drinks, and wine (white and red alike).

There are even a few tricks you can use to make your smile look brighter than it is, even if you don’t whiten your teeth at all. If you wear lipstick, for instance, choose a color that contains blue tones. These brighten the smile, while red and orange tones can make teeth look more yellow.

Using a bronzer on your face can also create the effect of a brighter smile.

And if you do opt for whitening of any kind, keep in mind that it’s only going to work on your natural teeth. Tooth-colored fillings, ceramic crowns, implants, partials – these will remain their same color. Accounting for these is yet another reason why, if you’re thinking of whitening, it’s a good idea to have a dental consultation first – to make sure everything blends nicely and that the smile you get is the one you want and will love.

Antioxidants: Guardians of Your Health

cranberriesThough cranberries are a Thanksgiving staple, they often go uneaten. This year, you might try some, though – not the hopped up sugarific kind, but more gently and naturally sweetened (like this, for instance). Not only are they tasty; they’re an excellent source of antioxidants.

Research has shown that the polyphenols in cranberries – phytonutrients that play a role in combatting oxidative stress – may help prevent both caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease. By the same token, a study published just last month in the Journal of Periodontology found oxidative stress to be an excellent biomarker for evaluating perio problems.

And as we noted last time, increasing antioxidant intake is key to combatting oxidative stress.

Antioxidants come in all shapes and sizes. Some are vitamins. Some are vitamin co-factors and minerals. Some are hormones. Some are phenols. The list goes on. A few of the biggies:

Vitamin A
Your body can synthesize this vitamin from beta carotene, but it’s also found in many foods. Especially good sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, squash and red peppers. As one of the fat-soluble vitamins, your body can store it in its tissues.

Vitamin C
C, on the other hand, cannot be stored by the body. You must get it regularly through food. And citrus is far from the only good source. Peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, dark leafy greens, guava and kiwi are just a few of the foods rich in this nutrient.

Vitamin E
Like vitamin A, E is fat soluble. Almonds, avocados, fish and spinach are just a few E-rich foods.

This compound is one of the body’s energy carriers, which is also the source of its antioxidant power. Meat, fish, nuts are some of your best sources of this nutrient.

This mineral is critical for human development and metabolism, as well as the antioxidant system. Good sources include seafood (especially mussels, clams and bass), nuts (especially hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts), tofu, beans and dark leafy greens.

As we mentioned before, this trace mineral is critical for thyroid function, but it also functions as an antioxidant. It’s abundant in sea foods and vegetables such as seaweed, spirulina and shellfish. It’s also found in raw milk, butter, eggs and cheeses (particularly from grass fed cows), pineapples, and dark green vegetables grown in good, healthy soil.

colorful fruits and vegetablesYour best bet for ensuring you get enough of such nutrients? Eating a varied and colorful diet based on whole foods and especially rich in fresh vegetables and fruit.

And keep in mind that as you age, your needs change and your natural production of antioxidants slows. What you needed to be healthy at 15 is different than what you need at age 40, say, or 70. A 2007 review in the Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging reminds that having good health is about smart choices.

The elderly should…be encouraged to consume a diet rich in antioxidants as there is evidence that such a diet especially in combination with a healthy life style can lower the rate of all-causes and cause-specific mortality

Of course, healthy choices are a must at any age.

For more information about ways to boost your antioxidant and co-factor levels, check out these articles:

Images by Pen Waggener & Faith Goble