When your smile could use a quick pick-me-up, sometimes you may think it’s just as easy to reach for a tube of whitening toothpaste. But be smart about your decisions because some whitening toothpastes may be so harsh and abrasive that they can damage your tooth enamel.

You are only cleaning (and possibly scratching) the surface

Toothpastes haven’t changed all that much since Cleopatra brushed her teeth with ground up shells. The idea then was to use abrasion to remove buildup from teeth. Almost all toothpastes still contain abrasives – tiny, non-soluble particles – that remove food, bacteria and plaque from teeth’s surface. While the ingredients have changed, they don’t necessarily work any more powerfully than the eggshells and crushed bones of yesteryear. Most of the cleaning comes from the manual action of brushing.

Brushing your teeth is a good daily habit, but abrasion can be your enemy. Abrasives found in toothpaste can scratch enamel, veneers and crowns.

In addition to abrasives, some whitening toothpastes may contain gentle polishing or chemical agents. However, these agents do not bleach teeth to a whiter shade. They only remove surface stains. Unfortunately, most stains are set deeper, especially if your teeth have become more porous from traditional gel-based whitening treatments. So at best, whitening toothpaste may only get your teeth one shade lighter.

Deep clean and bleach for a truly bright smile

To effectively whiten your teeth two things must happen. First, you need to remove deep stains. Second, you need to bleach your teeth beyond what is achievable with cleaning alone. The best way to achieve the brightest smile is to use an oral detergent and a non-abrasive, low-acidic bleach treatment.

Whitening toothpastes may make you feel a little sparkly (many companies even add mica to make the paste sparkle) but they may not be as effective as you’d like at helping you safely attain a whiter smile.