One of the first things we notice about someone is their smile, so when it comes to our own toothy expressions it makes sense that we want to strive for perfection. To help us demystify the dental options available to help us achieve a whiter and brighter look, we turned to Raleigh, North Carolina-based aesthetic dentist Dr. Justin Russo, DDS. “In my experience, a ‘million-dollar smile’ is one that exudes overt youth, health, and symmetry, all while being displayed with confidence,” says Russo. “It all starts with a look in the mirror and an honest answer to the question of ‘how am I taking care of my teeth?’” Here, Dr. Russo shares pro tips and procedures that will help readers have clean, sparkling, and camera-ready teeth.
Brush up on your everyday maintenance. “You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: floss your teeth every single day,” says Dr. Russo, noting that toothpicks, business cards, and water picks don’t count (these products just stab at your gums and don’t remove plaque). Instead, use a string dental floss to keep the plaque off your teeth. Russo recommends either a Glide floss or floss sticks like Plackers, which are bent a little at the end to give the floss a little more slack to curve around your tooth. Pro tip: Floss first and then brush, which will in turn make your tooth-cleansing more effective. Dr. Russo recommends using a non-abrasive toothpaste—just look for “enamel protect” on the tube.
Book an appointment for an in-office whitening. Once you’ve mastered a cleansing routine, you can begin to critically evaluate your teeth for color. If you notice brown or purplish stains and you know you drink “known offenders,” aka staining beverages such as tea, coffee, or red wine, you are likely a good candidate for in-office tooth whitening. In Dr. Russo’s office, the procedure consists of a dental cleaning to remove surface staining. Then, teeth are dried and a gel that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide is applied and activated with an ultraviolet light to achieve a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide (this will dissolve and bleach the internal staining in the pores of your teeth). In-office tooth whitening can be further enhanced with take-home whitening trays, which are mainly used as touch-up kits. Pro tip: Do not consume colored beverages such as tea, coffee, and red wine for 48 hours after whitening while the pores of your teeth are still open, as this will cause re-staining.
Consider a permanent cosmetic upgrade with porcelain veneers. If you are older than 40 years old, don’t drink heavy amounts of colored beverages, or if you notice that your teeth are shorter, chipped, or sharper than they used to be, cosmetic whitening procedures may not be the solution to your teeth concerns. In these instances, Dr. Russo says, porcelain veneers would be a better option because you can choose a uniformly brighter shade of porcelain for a permanent, whiter color that will not change. Just be mindful of the quality of the porcelain veneer and the experience level of the provider placing the veneer, Dr. Russo warns; facilitation of a porcelain veneer requires the use of a master ceramist trained in layering esthetic porcelain to achieve lifelike, natural qualities. “Extreme attention to detail and experience in recognizing the nuances between a feminine smile versus a masculine smile need to be taken into account.” Pro tip: A common concern Dr. Russo hears from patients who are in their 40s and beyond is that they find it more difficult to smile in pictures. The reason, he says, is because the collagen in our upper lip thins and breaks down as we age. By enhancing a smile with porcelain veneers and by placing the veneers appropriately, you can provide more support for the upper lip and facial skin—thus lifting the lip and enhancing the facial appearance. In an era of constant selfies, that’s reason enough to consider the procedure!