Bleach your way to pearly whites

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- When given the choice, most people would choose whiter teeth instead of a dull yellow color. Thanks to famous celebrities and their pearly whites, more and more people are looking for different ways to keep their smile bright.

The enamel is the outer layer of a tooth, and many different things affect its color. Genetics, trauma, poor oral hygiene, medications, and most food and beverages affect its shade.

Luckily, there are several ways to lighten the shade of teeth.

Walking down the dental aisle at the local supermarket in search of the "perfect" product can be overwhelming. The choice of which whitening system to use depends on the end goal.

It's easiest to split the whitening options into two major categories: chemical bleaching products and whitening toothpastes.

Chemical products include dentist-prescribed gel, over-the-counter gel, and whitening strips and rinses. These products all change the color of the teeth. The chemicals absorb into the layers of enamel, which removes deep stains.

Whitening toothpastes do not contain bleach and only remove surface stains. This paste has millions of tiny grains that act like sandpaper against your teeth, literally buffing away surface stains.

Most whitening products cause temporary tooth and gum sensitivity. This pain can be worse for those with sensitivity issues prior to bleaching.

One way to ease the pain is to use toothpaste geared at sensitivity control for a few weeks prior to bleaching. This way the enamel can soak in the medicine from the paste and create somewhat of a barrier to pain.

Newly bleached teeth absorb stains easily. To keep teeth white as long as possible, avoid tobacco products and stain-causing beverages such as red wine, cola, coffee and tea. Whitening is not permanent and requires constant maintenance.

Remember, a white smile isn't always a healthy smile. Brush twice a day and floss once a day to keep teeth healthy.