Your taste buds may be enjoying that long black or glass of red, but your teeth are picking up the tab – hello, stains and discoloration! Thankfully, plenty of whitening products are now on offer to restore your smile, including DIY options.

“In addition to drinks, sauces such as soy sauce and spices such as turmeric are common causes of tooth stains,” says dentist Peter Chuang from the Australian Dental Association Oral Health Committee. “To reduce discolouration, most whitening methods use gels that bleach your teeth or work like gentle sandpaper to remove stains from the tooth’s surface.” So, what should you use? Some products are better than others, so here’s a rundown of what options work best.   

Least Effective: Mouthwashes

Though they may help blitz mouth bacteria, mouthwashes are not effective for removing teeth stains, says Chuang. “They may also dry out your mouth, so opt for alcohol-free varieties,” he adds.

Cost: About $8.  

Minimally Effective: Whitening pens and Whitening gels

“As the main ingredient peroxide is not strong, it’s quickly diluted by saliva, reducing the amount of time the whitening chemicals are in contact with your teeth at full concentration,” explains Sydney-based dentist Angie Lang.

The upshot? It’s a quick fix, but results can be mixed. At first, pens and gels may fade stains, but within weeks they may be visible on your teeth again.

Cost: About $20 to $50 (most pens and gels provide several applications).

Somewhat Effective: Toothpaste

Abrasive toothpastes (think charcoal, tooth powders, baking soda, and, of course, whitening toothpaste) can have a polishing effect to remove surface stains on teeth temporarily. “But they should only be used once a week or less, otherwise they could wear away your tooth enamel, which could cause sensitivity and make your teeth appear more yellow,” says Lang. Instead, look for whitening toothpastes that use non-abrasive ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide to bleach teeth, as these are gentler on your tooth enamel.

Cost: From $7.

Very Effective: Whitening Strips

These tick even more boxes. Worn for 30 minutes over several days, these flexible plastic strips mould to the contours of your teeth and gums. Once in place, the chemicals in the strips start to gently break down stains and also bleach the surface of your teeth. “Whitening strips can be very effective because they help to hold the whitening gel in place over your teeth, so it has more time to work,” says Lang. Look for kits with mouldable mouthguards to help protect your gums.

Cost: From $30 a pack.

Most Effective: Whitening Trays

These can be bought online or in chemists and are the top choice for a stain-free smile. The kits contain mouldable bleach trays that you dip in hot water to fit to your teeth. After filling the trays with whitening gel, you slip them in for several hours. Some kits contain single-use trays pre-filled with whitening gel. Others come with little LED lamps that you shine on your teeth to enhance the bleaching effect. “For maximum results, it’s best to have whitening trays custom made by your dentist,” advises Lang. “The trays can then be used at home or as part of a whitening treatment program offered by your dentist. Every few months, you can then pop them in again to top up.” The whitening effects can last for six months or more.

Cost for DIY: Over-the-counter/online kits like Hi-Smile cost about $50-$250.

Cost for custom-fit trays, you’re looking at $350.

Cost for whitening treatment by a dentist: About $450 for a two-hour treatment with custom-fit trays and then you top up with a home maintenance kit.

© Prevention Australia