There’s nothing like a mouth full of pearly whites to boost your confidence and plant a big smile on your face. And according to a 2012 Match.com survey of over 5,000 single men and women, the majority of both men (58 percent) and women (71 percent) say teeth are what they judge most when considering going on a date with someone. It beats out grammar, clothing and even hair as the first thing we check out on a potential love interest.
But when you think about it, it’s really not surprising. Your mouth health can be a pretty good indication of your overall health, and therefore, how suitable you are as a mate. Sparkling white teeth are a sign of youth and vibrancy while darker, yellow teeth signal aging and all the health woes and degradation that come along with it.
Since giving up teeth-staining foods (like red wine, coffee, soy sauce, tomato sauce) is not realistic, brushing with a whitening toothpaste, like this one from Marvis, and rinsing with a whitening mouthwash (we like ), can help remove everyday surface stains. But they won’t give you a drastic color change.
“Whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes are more effective at maintaining your bright smile after you’ve undergone a professional in-office or at-home whitening treatment,” says Dr. Emanuel Layliev, cosmetic dentist at the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry.
If you think your choppers could use a little extra TLC, you’ve got options. Depending on the level of time and financial commitment you’re willing to put in, you can choose the option that’s best for you.
Minimal Commitment: Makeup
We love a good red lipstick, and fortunately, it can do more than make your kisser look full and sultry: It can also help make teeth appear whiter, says makeup artist Robin McGee, President, Founder and Formulator of Osmosis Colour Cosmetics. “Selecting a lipstick that works with your skintone will enhance the brightness of your smile,” she says, but lipsticks or stains with cool undertones are best to diminish yellow tones in your teeth. “Cherry, plum and rosy pinks are excellent colors for this,” McGee says. Try Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Love That Red, Smashbox Be Legendary Lipstick in Plum Scene, and Tarte Glamazon Pure Performance 12-Hour Lipstick in Pure.
Avoid colors that are too dark, frosted or yellow-based, as they can actually make your teeth look even more discolored, McGee notes. Also, go for a hydrating formula—dryness can accentuate plaque buildup.
You can also take attention away from the teeth by enhancing your eyes and cheeks. “Using a bold color for the eyes, creating sexy cat eyes, or sultry smoky eyes along with a neutral lip color will be a sure way to keep people looking away from your mouth,” McGee says, and highlight cheeks with bronzer. “Remember, showcasing the parts of your face that you love will always allow people to look exactly where you want.”
Moderate Commitment: At-Home Whitening
Still feeling like you could be a little brighter and whiter? Before you make an appointment with your dentist and empty out your wallet for a top of the line treatment, consider what you can do on your own.Dr. Maryann Lehmann, Consulting Dentist for GO SMiLE Inc., suggests adding something that can seamlessly be worked into your daily oral care routine, like a whitening gel. The Truly Whitening Toothpaste System from Go SMiLE comes with a gel that you simply add to your toothpaste—no extra steps involved.
“You can start seeing results as quickly as just a few days,” Lehmann adds. We also like combo, which is essentially a toothbrush with a whitening gel pen built into the bottom, so you won’t forget to swipe it on right after you brush.
If you’re willing to put in a little more time, there are more in-depth ways your can whiten at home. “Crest white strips are my favorite over the counter option. They are safe, effective and user-friendly,” says Layliev. Plus, he adds, they contain the same ingredients that dentists use: either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. “The key difference between professional and at-home systems is that at-home systems use a lower concentration of peroxide and thus take longer to achieve results,” Layliev notes. But after about 2-4 weeks, you can expect to see very comparable results for a fraction of the cost. Try .
Another DIY option is an at-home blue light system, like Prime Time Smile’s Active Blue Teeth Whitening Kit, an inexpensive whitening system that works the same way as an in-office blue light treatment and takes less than 30 minutes.
When it comes to at-home whitening, Dr. Lehmann gives one important bit of advice: “More isn’t always better! You should follow directions, and not use the products more frequently or longer than directed.”
Serious Commitment: In-office treatments
If you’ve exhausted every other option, or just don’t have the time or patience to deal with it on your own, it might be time to head to your dentist to pull out the big guns. Each office might use a slightly different system depending on the dentist’s preference, but many use LED lights to achieve optimal results without causing sensitivity. Dr. Layliev uses Philips Zoom White Speed in his office, a common system that can be customized for each individual patient to ensure the treatment is both comfortable and effective. At New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, the treatment goes for $600 for a 45-minute treatment or $250 for a “QuickWhite” session, which uses the same technology but for a shorter time. “Our guestimate for teeth bleaching pricing nationwide is between $250 to $1,000,” Layliev notes.
Protect your investment and get longer-lasting results after your treatment by maintaining with whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes and gels. But make sure you talk with your dentist about which at-home treatments are safe to use after an in-office session to avoid causing any damage or sensitivity issues. You won’t be able to fully enjoy that brand-new smile if it’s causing you discomfort.