Best Tips and Tools to Whiten Your Smile

Good Housekeeping

Turn back time with the latest lip enhancers, tooth whiteners, and more.

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Photo by: Lara Robby/Studio D

You can easily romanticize a few laugh lines (hey — every wrinkle is but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life, according to Dickens). But time's effects on your smile can be considerably harder to write off, no matter how talented the scribe. There's the yellowing or graying of teeth, the thinning of lips, the appearance of lip lines...and the list goes on. On the bright side, home tools that fight tooth discoloration (to say nothing of the latest in-office procedures) are getting ultra high-tech, and there are plenty of low-tech anti-aging essentials, too. Read on for these, plus top dermatologist and makeup-artist tips for adding major spark — and sparkle — to your smile.


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Tooth Care (Or Consequences)

However unsexy, nuts-and-bolts dental hygiene is key to keeping your smile young-looking. "Your teeth control the lower third of your face," says New York City dentist Michael Apa, D.D.S. Their gradual wearing down and shifting with age contributes to the formation of frown lines and the hollowing of the cheeks. Tooth decay and loss only exacerbate these issues. In addition to what you already know (brush at least twice a day, floss once a day, and see a dentist regularly), here are some things you may not:


1. Rinse your mouth after every meal or glass of wine — red or white. "White wine has acids that penetrate the enamel, allowing staining and decaying food particles to penetrate more easily," says New York City dentist and Supersmile creator Irwin Smigel, D.D.S. Red, by contrast, creates only superficial staining. But whatever you eat or drink, a subtle swishing and swallowing of water right away at the table helps minimize residue, staining, and tooth decay, says Smigel.


2. Chew sugarless gum. "As you age, your salivary glands shrink and produce less saliva, which is a natural antimicrobial that helps prevent decay," says Smigel. "But gum chewing restimulates the flow."


3. Floss down into your gums, not just between your teeth. Plaque and bacteria can get stuck in those voids, causing inflammation and decay.


4. Ask your dentist to check the state of your fillings. "Every filling eventually has to be replaced," says New York City dentist Marc Lowenberg, D.D.S. Silver, or amalgam, lasts between 10 and 20 years, so your childhood dental work may be overdue for replacement. Fresh fillings can help prevent tooth decay and loss — and, down the road, root canals and implants.


5. Consider orthodontics if your teeth have shifted significantly. "Your jaw is shifting along with your teeth," says Apa. "Left unchecked, the situation can create a collapsed look" (think Disney's Evil Queen disguised as the old lady in Snow White). Invisalign or behind-the-teeth braces are the subtlest options for grown-ups. Ranging from $3,500 to $8,000, the investment for them isn't small. But the long-term payoff is big.


Lip Service

The skin surrounding your mouth and teeth is as much an element of a youthful smile as your teeth themselves. Your lips, like all exposed skin, need a high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen: "UV damage can manifest as inflammation of the lips, redness and flaking, and, over time, wrinkling and even cancer," says Macrene Alexiades, Ph.D., M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. An important aside: Though skin cancer of the lips is uncommon, when it does form, it tends to spread to the lymph nodes very quickly. Try Blistex Five Star Lip Protection (Starting at $2.00, Yahoo! Shopping) with SPF 30 or Kiehl's Lip Balm SPF 15 (Starting at $9.50, Yahoo! Shopping).


To combat wrinkling of the skin around the mouth, start with Olay Professional Pro X Deep Wrinkle Treatment (Starting $30, Yahoo! Shopping) for eight weeks; if you don't see results, move up to prescription Renova. For pronounced peaks and valleys, you may want to ask your dermatologist about injectables. A hyaluronic acid filler like Juvéderm or Restylane — ranging in price from a few hundred to a thousand dollars or so, depending on the area you're treating and the area you live in — is delicate enough to plump the fine lines above and below the mouth. Dr. Alexiades likes to pair one of the aforementioned fillers with Botox. "It's the best crowd-pleaser for instant gratification," she says.


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Photo by: Lara Robby/Studio D

Kiss and Makeup

"Lipstick bleeding is the first sign of an aging mouth," says New York City makeup artist Laura Geller. To stop lip color from migrating into lines, pretreat the area around the mouth with concealer: Using your fingertip, lightly dot on one that contains reflective particles. Try Boots No7 Radiant Glow Concealer ($13, Yahoo! Shopping), and then lightly dust with translucent powder. The rest of Geller's tips for younger-looking lips:


1. Use a lip brush to apply lipstick. The tool gives you optimum precision as well as control over how much color you lay down near the edges.


2. Go bright. "The brighter, the better," says Geller. If your teeth are stained, "muted colors make graying or yellowing teeth look worse." Brights, however, are like a face-lift in a tube. Think pink, rose, or a true red. Try Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Gentlemen Prefer Pink ($8, drugstores) or Laura Geller Lipstick in On Stage ($15.50, laurageller.com).


3. Steer clear of matte lipsticks that are either too dry (true mattes) or too glossy (creams). Either extreme highlights signs of age: matte, by emphasizing lines; cream, by bleeding all too easily into them. "A pearlescent formula looks moist and stays put," says Geller.


4. Line your lips with a lip pencil after you apply lipstick. "You'll get a fuller-looking pout than if you do the reverse," says Geller. "To make sure the liner is undetectable, use one that's the same shade as your lip color."


All the White Moves

The biggest smile booster, bar none, is whitening. In-office treatments, which range from laser- and light-activated bleaching to veneers, provide dramatic improvement, but they also come with a hefty price tag ($300 - $5,000). "But if your teeth just need a little pick-me-up, you'll probably be fine with an over-the-counter bleaching product," says Apa. One he particularly likes: the new Crest 3D 2 Hour Express Whitestrips (Starting at $50, Yahoo! Shopping). Like in-office treatments, at-home bleaches oxidize stain molecules with hydrogen peroxide — or ingredients that break down into it — albeit in lower concentrations. The other kinds of at-home whiteners — whitening toothpastes or rinses — use polishing and other non-bleach agents to either scrub off or chemically remove stains that are closer to the surface.


Whether you whiten with a toothpaste, strip, or rinse, you're not likely to sensitize or harm your teeth: "The old bleaches that abraded have been discontinued," says Apa. Any sensitivity you experience should subside as soon as you stop whitening, he says. While whiteners don't lighten bonds, veneers, and other dental work, certain brands, like Go Smile, Supersmile, and Glo, do remove stains on artificial tooth surfaces. A few more products to try: Colgate Total Advanced Whitening Gel ($3.80, drugstores); Supersmile Whitening Professional Whitening System (Starting at $30, Yahoo! Shopping), and, as of next month, from Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., the GLO, a light-activated home whitening system that claims to mimic in-office results ($275, Sephora).


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