The Teeth-Whitening Mistake That Darkens Your Pearly Whites

If you've ever had your teeth professionally whitened, you're probably familiar with the "no coffee, no berries, no red wine for 24 hours" edict. And as with all of those things you're supposed to do (hit the gym for 30 minutes a day, drink only one glass of wine, floss daily) you really mean to follow through, but then 3 p.m. rolls around, your energy dips, and the siren song of iced coffee starts to beckon. How much could one little (OK, grande) cup really affect your smile?

Turns out the answer could be more than you think. See, the whitening process can slightly dehydrate your teeth (yep, your teeth can get dehydrated, too), which in turn makes them temporarily more likely to absorb the deep-red shade of your favorite Cabernet. While the tint of a tasty tomato sauce would normally be held at bay by your enamel, for the first day or so after a whitening treatment, your teeth are more vulnerable to stains. To help combat this, dentist Michael Apa suggests staying away from food and drinks with strong pigmentation for a minimum of 24 hours after you whiten and even longer if possible.

 If you're not up for an all-white diet, Apa recommends maintaining your toothpaste-commercial shine by upping your regular dental cleanings to every three to four months instead of the usual six month checkup and supplementing with an at-home whitening regimen that contains carbamide peroxide (like his own Apa White Duo). Hydrogen peroxide, which is a common bleaching ingredient in home whitening treatments, can cause more sensitivity than its relative carbamide peroxide, according to Apa; some experts link that heightened sensitivity to greater tooth dehydration.

 So the next time you brighten up your smile, remember to keep things light on the food-and-drink front to get the most of your whitening. It's the doctor's orders for a reason.