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4 Fast Ways to Brighten Your Smile

Everything you need to know for a whiter smile. (Hint: It takes more than bleaching.)

Act fast
The sooner you get to stains, the less likely they are to stick. “The tannins and polyphenols in foods such as coffee, tea, marinara sauce and red wine adhere to the surface of your tooth in under an hour,” cautions Jonathan Levine, D.D.S., founder of GoSmile, a dental-products company in New York City. Combined with plaque, which can trap dark pigments and harden into tartar in 8 to 24 hours, stains will become increasingly tougher to tackle over time, so break out the toothbrush as soon as possible after eating culprit foods.

Chew on this
No brush? No biggie. In a pinch, any gum that’s sugar-free (an absolute must for dodging tooth decay) can help keep your pearly whites gleaming. “Both whitening and regular gums work on the same principle—saliva flows over your teeth, flushing away stains,” says Lana Rozenberg, D.D.S., founder of the Dental Day Spa in New York City. Even rinsing with a swig of water or chomping on some crudités does the trick; heavy chewing generates saliva. But make sure you stick with non-sugary options. Sorry, trick-or-treaters, that means caramel chews and nougats don’t count.

Make fluoride your friend
Don’t count on a whitening toothpaste alone to safeguard your smile; it doesn’t have a high enough concentration of peroxide or stay in contact with teeth long enough, according to Debra Glassman, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist in New York City. Abrasive ingredients like silica or baking soda in whitening pastes gently polish away surface stains caused by foods, but a whitening toothpaste that also contains fluoride is your best bet; it helps strengthen the tooth’s enamel, which is more porous after bleaching. This will also soothe sensitivity and prevent stains and plaque from ruining your smile, Dr. Glassman says.

Brush up on brushing
While most of us probably abide by the twice-a-day mandate, a cursory 30-second cleaning isn’t really cutting it to rid teeth of plaque or bacteria that stain enamel. You actually need to brush for a full two minutes—and cover the entire terrain. “Think of your mouth as divided into quadrants,” Dr. Levine suggests. Then brush each one (upper right, lower right, upper left, lower left) for approximately 30 seconds. But be careful not to overdo it: Scrubbing teeth too vigorously and for too long, especially if you use a hard-bristled brush, can wear away the enamel. Instead, opt for a soft-bristled brush (replace it every three or four months), and keep an eye on the clock. You’ll be able to give all your teeth equal attention, so choppers stay spotless. Now, if only keeping the kitchen clean were this easy.