The easiest ways to whiten your teeth

Our teeth can certainly take a beating. Coffee, tea, tobacco use, even red wine can leave unsightly stains on our teeth, ruining that perfect smile we all long to have. Many of us will do just about anything to whiten our smile because a bright, white smile can do wonders for our confidence.

Interestingly, there's a historical reason why perfectly white teeth are so desired in many cultures. Pearly white teeth have been a mark of beauty and wealth for centuries. In fact, the practice of teeth-whitening can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians around 4,000 years ago. They used a mixture of ground pumice stone mixed in wine vinegar to whiten their teeth. A few centuries later, ancient Romans used … well … urine to whiten teeth. Yea, you heard me right, they used urine.

Well, we've come a long way baby. Today, there are many other techniques — both professional and natural — that you can use to whiten your teeth, and they don't include urine, thank you very much.

Professional whitening by a dentist

One of the easiest methods of whitening your teeth is by having it done professionally by your dentist. In fact, it is one of the most popular cosmetic dental procedures in the world. But, professional whitening does come with a hefty cost that might be too steep for some. The cost of in-office bleaching averages $650, and it should be noted that it is not a permanent solution.

Still, many find the advantages of in-office tooth-whitening procedures make it worth the cost, including a faster result and fewer sensitivities.

Teeth whitening trays and gels

Outside of the dentist office, one of the most common methods of whitening your teeth today is the use of teeth whitening trays with gels, which can be purchased over-the-counter in your local grocery or pharmacy.

According to Dr. Jonathan B. Levine, DMD, this method is known as a "boil and bite" system. The tray is heated, gel containing hydrogen peroxide is placed in the tray and fitted over your teeth. Then you wait for the gel to turn those dim, stained teeth bright white, right? Well, not so fast.

This method is not for everyone because the system takes patience and requires many weeks to get the desired results. Up to 80 percent of users also report sensitivity from the product, which is due to the breakdown of the carbamide peroxide gel. On rare occasions, irreversible tooth damage has been reported from bleaching products containing peroxide, notes the American Dental Association. "Patients should be cautioned that not enough information is available to support unsupervised long-term and/or repeated use of bleaching products," the professional association cautions.

Whitening strips

I don't know about you, but I have spent hours with whitening strips on my teeth. While it's definitely not my cup of tea because my gag reflex tends to kick in, you might find the strips the perfect solution to getting your teeth white. Hydrogen peroxide is impregnated on a polyethylene strip that you can place directly on the teeth. For an over the counter method, this is likely one of the most efficient, notes Dr. Jonathan Levine.

"The efficacy is excellent for an OTC product, but you must be cautious not to burn your fingers or rest the strip on the gums, as this will cause irritation over time. If you are patient and compliant, you'll see results in a few weeks. This method is best if you have two weeks to whiten," Levine says.

The ADA recommends that if you choose to use any bleaching product, you should only do so after consulting your dentist.

Good oral hygiene

For those who prefer to whiten their teeth without invasive methods — not to mention the cost — there are a number of natural methods that can be used. While the results of natural remedies may not be as remarkable as some of the products out there, they will certainly help keep your teeth brighter and your smile more radiant.

The first natural step to a bright, white smile is good oral hygiene. Toothpastes buff out stains on your teeth. Although you might want to buy whitening toothpaste, in reality those only really have more of the same ingredients found in regular toothpaste and do not include the bleaching products found in other whitening products.

Flossing is also essential because it eliminates food and bacteria that could harden into plaque, which makes your teeth look dull and darker. Regular visits to the dentist for a good cleaning will also help ensure a naturally white smile.

Baking soda

When I was a kid, my mother swore by brushing teeth with baking soda, a method I still adhere to.

Baking soda (or sodium bi-carbonate) is a chemical that reduces acids on the teeth, making them appear more white. In addition, baking soda has a mild abrasive property that removes stains from teeth and can help prevent their return. Try using a bit of baking soda mixed with a little water three times a week and see if you don't notice a marked difference in the whiteness of your teeth. You can also buy toothpastes that contain sodium-bicarbonate.

Coconut oil rinse

Although this technique might sound a little strange, many people swear by the old remedy of rinsing your mouth with coconut oil. The technique called "oil pulling" is very popular in Ayurvedic medicine. While the technique doesn't bleach your teeth, coconut oil contains lauric acid, which can rid your teeth of bacteria found in plaque that can make them appear yellow.

Before brushing your teeth, try scooping a tablespoon of coconut oil and putting it in your mouth. For about 10-15 minutes, swish the oil — or pull it — through your teeth before spitting it out. Afterwards, rinse your mouth out with water and then brush your teeth as you usually do.

Don't forget the obvious

To get the whitest of smiles and to keep your teeth white throughout your life, don't forget the obvious. So often we rely on products to remove stains on our teeth, when one of the easiest ways to avoid a dull smile is to eliminate the foods and drinks that stain them in the first place.

I know, I can't even imagine my life without a cuppa joe, but the best way to keep your teeth white is to eliminate coffee, tea, colas, red wine and tobacco products. Other foods that can stain your teeth include pasta sauce, curry, balsamic vinegar and berries. While it's not fun to get rid of some of your favorite foods and beverages, it's an effective way to keep your teeth white.

Keep smiling

There's no doubt that having beautiful white teeth can do wonders in boosting your confidence. Whether you choose to use professional methods for whitening teeth or prefer more natural remedies, taking care of your teeth will keep you smiling pretty the rest of your life and brighten the day of those with whom you interact. So smile on.