STYLE
09/10/2018 16:55 EDT

Does Whitening Toothpaste Work? It Depends On Your Expectations

It isn't a long-term solution for stained teeth.

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When meeting potential mates, many point to a great smile as a prime attribute. In other words, sparkling pearly whites.

This is no great revelation, though. A good set of evenly spaced, white teeth can indicate signs of good health and, therefore, a "higher quality" partner. Studies have confirmed there's some evidence that shows our universal preference for straight, white teeth, too.

Much like peacocks and their mate-attracting plumes, some people have more impressive teeth than others. As we strive to achieve the perfect smile, the first and least invasive step is often using whitening toothpaste. The mass amounts of product in the market indicates the demand, but does it work?

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Dr. Judy Sturm is a Toronto-based cosmetic dentist, and if you're asking if whitening toothpastes show results, her answer is yes. But don't take that answer at face value yet.

"Whitening toothpastes are effective for removing surface stain but they won't change the natural colour of one's teeth," she told HuffPost Canada in an email. "Whitening toothpastes contain abrasives that gently polish teeth and chemicals that help dissolve stains. Whitening toothpastes may make your teeth appear whiter because they have dissolved surface stain, but [they] are not a replacement for bleaching."

If you're going to purchase whitening toothpaste, manage your expectations by understanding what kind of stain you're trying to remove.

"One has to differentiate between two kinds of stains: extrinsic (surface) and intrinsic stain," explained Sturm. "Whitening toothpastes work on extrinsic stains, those which you get from drinking coffee, colas and smoking."

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Victoria Larocci, 34, works in sales, an industry where appearance is important. She started experimenting with whitening toothpaste years ago with mediocre results.

"It didn't last long but maybe my teeth were whitened a touch more," she told HuffPost Canada. "Also, I can only use Sensodyne whitening toothpaste or my teeth are way too sensitive."

Larocci's short-lived results exemplify Dr. Sturm's point. While you may see temporary results, the yellowing returns as soon as you have a few tall lattes.

Long-term results are the best-case scenario, but that requires bleach. The most effective and safe option is professional bleaching done at an office, Sturm said. Although it can be pricey, there are wallet-friendly options to get an unbelievably white smile a la Ross Geller from "Friends".

Alternatively, you can do at-home bleaching, Sturm said.

"Trays can be made [to] fit your teeth perfectly and bleach is dispensed. As long as your teeth don't change in shape and position, your bleaching trays last for a very long time and the bleach you use is under $40, every 18 months to two years. "

For Larocci, over-the-counter bleaching products have shown moderate results, but they're not without faults.

"The only whitening [product] that seems to actually work are Whitestrips because they actually bleach the denton part of the tooth, but they also make my teeth sensitive," she said.

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For those who only need to remove surface stains, whitening toothpaste works just fine. However, if consumers want to make an informed selection, there's one particular thing to look out for.

"Always look for a toothpaste with either the Canadian Dental Association or American Dental Association seal of approval," Sturm advised. "This is important because you must be careful that the toothpaste is not too abrasive."