While much of my early childhood was spent staring at the huge, goofily unironic smiles of seventies icons like Donny and Marie Osmond, Jimmy Carter, and John Denver, I came into my own during the far less cheery 1980's and 1990's. When I was in high school and college, grimaces were in: from Sting's pained expressions to George H.W. Bush's fatherly frown, my adolescence and early adulthood spooled out in the era of closed mouths and ironic half-smiles. Accordingly, my own ironic smile doesn't show too many teeth.
Even so, years of cigarettes, coffee, and red wine have definitely taken their toll, rendering my teeth a delightful shade of khaki. Recently, while looking in the mirror at a smile that would make the Osmonds run in horror, I decided that it might be a good idea to give my mouth a 50,000 mile overhaul. My wife, who used to work for an orthodontist, is foursquare against dental whitening, both because of the considerable expense and because she has seen too many teeth severely damaged by excessive bleaching. Consequently, I decided to check out some inexpensive home remedies for my delightfully khaki teeth.
Based on my research and product testing, I've compiled (and tried) a few useful techniques for putting the gleam back in your smile while keeping money in your pocket. While I was at it, I also decided to debunk a few classic remedies:
Several tooth whitening sites mention lemon juice as a common home remedy for discolored teeth. Basically, the idea is that lemon juice, a mild acid, breaks down stains. Unfortunately, it also breaks down the off-white calcium of your dental enamel, causing your teeth to quickly decay. In other words, this is sort of like using battery acid to clean your china; it will work for a while, but you'll soon find yourself exploring the wonders of tooth extraction and dental implants!
That's right, the same chemical that gave Marilyn Monroe her golden locks can give you gleaming teeth. Basically, once a week (although some people admit to doing it as often as twice a day), you gargle a capful for a minute or so, swishing it all around your mouth. Afterward, you should immediately rinse with water and brush with your regular toothpaste. In addition to whitening your teeth, it will also disinfect any small abrasions in your mouth and will freshen your breath. When I tried this one, I found it to be mild, effective, and not too nasty tasting.
I had always assumed that anything that would stain a shirt would also stain my teeth. While I stick behind that theory in most cases, strawberries are a notable exception, as their malic acid helps to safely loosen dental stains. I found a lot of recipes for strawberry toothpaste; ultimately, I put one berry in a blender with a teaspoon of baking soda (another great whitening compound), and processed the compound until it was smooth. I then smeared the paste on my teeth and let it sit for five minutes, trying to avoid drooling. After thoroughly brushing and flossing, I inspected my teeth. I still can't tell if they're whiter, but one usage is not likely to make that much of a difference. Because of the sugar in strawberries (and the fact that the strawberry/baking soda compound tastes foul), I'll probably wait a little while before doing this one again.
Several people have suggested using wood ash to clean your teeth, noting that it is outstanding for lifting stains. On the one hand, this is a very effective treatment -- hell, George Washington used it to polish silver! On the other hand, it works because hardwood ash contains a large amount of potassium hydroxide, also known as lye. In addition to potentially scarring your gums, it will break down your teeth over time. In other words, I'd save the wood ash for polishing things outside your mouth!
Other sites suggest mixing toothpaste, baking soda, salt, and peroxide to make a home whitening paste. I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds promising. In the meantime, I've got more than enough home remedies to keep me wallet closed and my butt out of the dentist's chair!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. His teeth aren't really khaki; they're more of an ivory color. Yeah, that sounds good...
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