If your teeth have been looking less than pearly white lately and you don't want to use commercial whitening products to perk them up, we have some solutions. Turns out, there are smart ways to whiten teeth that don't require the use of tooth-whitening strips or abrasive products.
1. Harness the power of fruits and veggies
Strawberries and apples contain malic acid, which acts as a whitener, says Kourosh Maddahi, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, California. In general, most crunchy fruits and veggies have enough abrasiveness to clean tooth surfaces without posing any harm to the enamel. "In addition, the high fiber in fruit acts like a gentle scrub, too," Maddahi says. "They also increase saliva flow which helps removes stains and many have tooth-strengthening properties like iron and vitamin A."
2. Use non-plastic straws to reduce staining
To reduce stains, sip staining liquids, like dark green and red juices through a paper or reusable straw and drink tooth-discoloring beverages like coffee and green tea through vented lids, Maddahi says. "These are great tricks to reducing the amount of staining you get on your teeth," he says.
3. Reach for dairy
It may seem counterintuitive, but cheese, milk and yogurt contain minerals like calcium and phosphorus to promote the remineralization of tooth enamel, says Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating. "This can help teeth appear sparkling and keep them cavity free," she says. "There's even evidence that eating cheese after a meal can prevent tooth decay."
4. Baking soda is powerful, so be careful
Baking soda is one of the most inexpensive ways to help teeth stay white — and one of the least painful. "If you've ever gotten your teeth bleached, you know that horrible feeling the day after when the bleach has worn off your enamel," says Shaina Simhaee, a holistic nutritionist, health coach and founder of Fastbeets.com. "Baking soda doesn't do that. While it won't give you an overnight transformation, it definitely whitens without harming your enamel." In fact, Simhaee says she keeps a small jar of baking soda next to her toothpaste and adds a pea size amount to her toothbrush and toothpaste every time she brushes. "While some commercial brands sell baking soda in their toothpaste, it's not enough to get your teeth white," she says. "So add some on your own!"
However, Dr. Matt Messina, an Ohio-based dentist and assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, says too much baking soda can be damaging. Talking to CNN about the use of abrasives like salt and baking soda (which is another kind of salt), Messina said these options can wear down surface enamel over time.
"You might see short-term whitening with an abrasive, as it will remove surface stains and teeth may get whiter quickly, but the long-term damage is in no way worth that," Messina said.
So use this option sparingly and talk to your dentist about your best options.
5. Pick out this tropical fruit
Eat a hearty portion of pineapple and stained teeth may return to their shiny selves again. Why? Turns out, pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which acts a natural stain remover. "Plus, pineapple has an incredible ability to break up plaque," Ficek says. "The bacteria in plaque produce acids that can erode the enamel of your teeth." And as one reader pointed out, pineapple is also an acid that can erode enamel, so while this tasty fruit is good at solving one problem (whiter teeth), you need to rinse or brush your teeth to protect your enamel.
6. Consider the power of ginger
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger help to support healthy mouth tissue which is the basis for a healthy smile and white teeth, Ficek says. "Periodontal disease is inflammatory disease, which causes loss of bone and connective tissue in the mouth," she says. "Drinking ginger tea or adding ground ginger to savory dishes promotes these anti-inflammatory properties."
7. Say yes to garlic and onions
Turns out, the compounds like thiosulfonates in garlic and onions help to reduce bacteria that cause tooth decay ultimately keeping your smile sparkly. "Eating these foods raw will have the strongest affect," Ficek says, "since cooking breaks down these compounds."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was published in December 2015.