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Benefit Cosmetics LLC

You're in the prime of your life, but your teeth have seen better days. Years of smoking or enjoying red wine, coffee, black tea and highly pigmented food such as curry have stained them a dingy yellowish-brown.

Thankfully, this sign of aging is easily reversed. The most effective and quickest way to brighten teeth is to have them professionally whitened at the dentist. However, it'll cost you several hundred to a couple thousand dollars. If your wallet can't handle the cost, opt for plan B – lightening them yourself. Keep reading for what products to use and for tips on how to maintain a sparking smile.   

At-home whiteners
There's a dizzying amount of brightening kits on the market. They're safe, according to Health Canada, but not all are created equal – some work wonders, others don't do much.

Over-the-counter: If you want to noticeably brighten up, then rinses, pastes and paint-on whiteners available in stores aren't your best bet. In part, that's because they contain low amounts of hydrogen peroxide (the whitening agent).  "As well, to get teeth white, the product has to stay on your enamel for a long time," says Dr. Dennis Marangos, a dentist in Toronto. "The rinses and toothpastes don't stay in contact with your teeth long enough to do anything." Strips, such as Crest White Strips, are the exception, as they hold on whitening gels. Their results are unpredictable, but Marangos says they may make your teeth up to two shades lighter.

Professional: The take-home kits that dentists offer, such as Opalescence and NiteWhite, can transform your teeth quickly. (At about $300 to $700, they're also more expensive than off-the-shelf products.) Marangos says they can go up to five shades brighter in just four to 10 days. They're exceptionally effective because they contain far more peroxide and come with custom-fitted trays – moulds are taken of your teeth – to ensure the gel stays on your teeth and off your gums (peroxide can burn gums).

Stay bright
To help keep your teeth whiter for longer – lightening doesn't stain-guard them – incorporate these tips into your oral hygiene routine. 

• Crunchy veggies. Eat crudités often, as their abrasiveness may help slough off stains before they settle in.

• Water. Drink a cup of water after every coffee or glass of red wine. It rinses away acidity and helps prevent stains from clinging to your enamel.

• Whitening toothpastes. Use them in place of regular toothpastes. However, Marangos has words of caution:  "They're more abrasive than natural toothpastes and they could wear down your enamel and cause increased sensitivity." If your teeth are sensitive, skip these products; instead, combine baking soda with a bit of mouthwash for a gentler and effective paste.

•Electric toothbrushes. They're more beneficial than manual ones. "Electric toothbrushes cover a greater area and get rid of more plaque and more stains," he explains.

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