Razzle, Dazzle Smile!
by Robin R. Rathbun

If a smile be your umbrella, don't just save it for a rainy day. Let it shine its everyday best with today's natural brighteners.

Woman SmilingYou can create a stunning, razzle-dazzle smile without bonding, capping or veneering your teeth. The two most common solutions are bleaching and abrasives — neither natural nor healthy for your teeth and gums. But there are some deliciously healthy natural products on the market that will give you something to smile about.

Each of us has our own "dental karma," according to Bernard Schechter, D.D.S., president of the Dental Herb Company in North Hampton, Mass. This means that our teeth are genetically predisposed to certain shades of the spectrum, from yellow to gray.

To make any shade of teeth whiter and brighter, scrub the exterior surface with toothpaste or tooth powder. Many manufacturers offer whitening toothpastes, although Schechter insists that there's no such thing. "I don't know any natural products that actually whiten teeth," Schechter says. "Toothpastes are abrasive to a more or lesser degree, which cleans the surface of the teeth. So, in effect, you could have sparkling gray or yellow teeth."

Shadings of yellow or gray occur because teeth develop intrinsic and extrinsic stains that darken over time. Tooth enamel, a calcareous substance that thinly caps a tooth, and dentin, a calcareous material that's harder than the bone that composes the principal mass of a tooth, have a crystalline structure — much like microscopic straws — through which bodily fluids flow. Some stains, like mottling from overfluoridating or from iron supplements, are rooted deep in the tooth. Other stains occur from exposure to wine, coffee, tea or tobacco.

"If stains have penetrated the enamel, then you can't expect to whiten them without a chemical or electrical brightening agent — a peroxide-like solution," says Michael Olmstead, D.D.S., consultant to the biocompatible dental field in Monterey, Calif. "But, if stains are the result of plaque or tartar build-up, friction and a mild abrasive can brighten teeth."

The good news is that natural abrasives, like hydrated silica and calcium carbonate (limestone chalk) are found in many toothpastes touted for their whitening power. The bad news is they may contribute to abrasion of tooth enamel. Reid Winick, D.D.S., a holistic dentist who specializes in deep scaling, a nonsurgical periodontal procedure, recommends a toothpaste with antioxidant properties that will help whiten teeth naturally. His product of choice includes calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and magnesium carbonate.

The least abrasive tooth-whitening product on the market uses effervescent action to break through stained tartar. When combined with one's saliva, this toothpowder forms carbonic acid, creating a mild foaming action. Due to the effervescent action, the calcium carbonate — the abrasive in the powder — becomes completely soluble. Although it's not as effective as pastes, enough abrasivity remains to gently clean and whiten teeth.

Olmstead's concerns about chemicals led him to try an ionic toothbrush with a small amount of whitening toothpaste to naturally bleach teeth over 30­45 days. The premise behind this technology, which has been marketed in Japan and Europe for several years, is that plaque and stains adhere to teeth via an electrostatic bond. The ionic toothbrush literally breaks that bond by temporarily reversing the polarity of tooth surfaces from negative to positive, repelling plaque toward the toothbrush head.

Sound hard to believe? A clinical study at the Marquette University School of Dentistry found the manual ionic toothbrush effective in reducing plaque on the test subjects' teeth over a six-month period of unsupervised brushing. During that time, the test group reduced plaque buildup by 36.17 percent as compared to the control group's reduction of 18.56 percent.

"Using an ionic toothbrush in conjunction with a whitening toothpaste supercharges the whole procedure without using trays or chemicals," says Olmstead. "From my experience, teeth definitely get whiter."

Brush Up On The Right Brush
As with the ionic toothbrush, make sure the bristles of any toothbrush are soft. Advances in technology are changing the shape of handles, modifying the head design and altering the shape and number of bristles mounted on the brush. Natural bristles, like boar hair, can be too firm and retain more bacteria than virgin nylon bristles. And since most toothbrushes need to be replaced every three to four months, many companies are making certain their products are fully recyclable.

Our teeth, however, are not recyclable. That's why good oral care is a must. Many dentists insist that this process begins with optimal nutrition. Winick suggests the following daily protocol for healthy teeth and gums and winter-fresh breath:

·Floss between teeth;
·Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush, using an antimicrobial toothpaste;
·Scrape or brush the tongue; and
·Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash.

Robin R. Rathbun is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.

Photography by: Tony Anderson