4 Rules for Brighter, Whiter Teeth

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Brush with the Best

You should brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes, holding the head at a 45-degree angle away from your gums. Go with medium or soft bristles—stiff brushes will scrape your gums raw. Best, though, are the electrics—they clean better, they're gentler on gums, and they make you commit to the entire 2 minutes. You should ditch your stick every 60 days or when the bristles become bent, whichever comes first.

Watch Your Whites

First-time users of tooth whiteners often experience sensitive teeth, says Richard Price, D.M.D., of the American Dental Association. Salvation: A study in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry reports that people who brush with potassium nitrate toothpaste for 2 weeks before starting at-home whitening are less likely to feel increased sensitivity. Our favorite: Tom's of Maine natural toothpaste. For more of the top dental grooming gear, check out The Best New Teeth Products for Men.

Just as important: knowing when to stop your whitening routine—like if your chompers start to turn blue around the edges. "This signals a breakdown of dentin," says Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., founder of GoSmile, "which is the substance beneath the tooth enamel that's being whitened

Ask the Teeth Expert

Make Your Teeth Shine

When picking an at-home whitener, use common sense. "Don't be fooled by false whitening claims," says Dr. Gerard Kugel, an associate dean of research at the Tufts University school of dental medicine. Simply put: Stronger bleach concentrations work faster. If you want a complete overhaul from a home kit, look for a carbamide peroxide concentration of at least 10 percent. In a German study, in-office trays whitened teeth six shades in three sessions ($500 to $1,000), and the at-home variety required seven uses ($300 to $600). Whitening strips required 32 applications ($20 to $150). Click here to find out more about at-home-whitening kits.

But you can't just suck a strip and forget it. Use a whitening toothpaste to keep the shine from fading, and a whitening floss—the plaque-heavy areas between your teeth soak up colors. Finally, watch the coffee, juice, and wine: They're oral-bling killers.

Find out more about at-home-whitening kits.

Banish Dragon Breath

If brushing and flossing aren't doing the trick, go hunting for tongue gunk. "Your tongue is like a shag carpet from the 1960s—bacteria are hanging out, clinking champagne glasses," says Jonathan Levine, D.D.S., which means they're probably smoking pot, too. The answer: a tongue scraper. Look for one with a rigid edge like OraSweet's ($3.50, orasweet.com). Reach as far back as you can, then pull forward, scraping your tongue. Follow with a peroxide mouthwash. Don't overscrape, warns Fuad Malik, D.D.S., a New York City dentist. It can cause "hairy tongue," which isn't kinky at all. For more answers to all your smile questions, read Ask the Teeth Expert.

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