Turn On Your Brights
I'm smiling in the mirror at my new cut and color when suddenly, oy—my teeth seem to need a little color correction of their own. I dial New York City cosmetic dentist Steven Fox for advice. "Maintenance is more important than aesthetics," he says. "It doesn't matter how white your teeth are if your gums are in bad shape." Twice-yearly visits to the dentist, regular flossing, and brushing with an electric toothbrush should keep your mouth healthy, but expect some inevitable age-related deterioration. "As we get older, there's a natural recession of the gums, making teeth appear longer," says New York City cosmetic dentist Jonathan Levine (hence the expression "long in the tooth"). If recession really bothers you, Levine suggests a combination of enameloplasty (filing off bits of enamel to shorten the teeth) and ceramic veneers (thin ceramic shells bonded to your teeth to change their shape); veneers can eliminate the discomfort of exposed roots, another side effect of receding gums, as well.
Over time teeth may also yellow from smoking, plaque accumulation, and coffee, tea, and red wine stains. In an ultraviolet whitening procedure, a dentist applies a peroxide gel to your teeth and then activates it with a UV ray. Because high concentrations of peroxide suck calcium from your teeth, making them more porous and thus prone to stains, your dentist can apply a remineralizing gloss, which adds back calcium and prevents discoloration. If you don't want to shell out up to $1,500 on an office treatment, try over-the-counter whiteners. But stay away from store-bought trays and gels, which can burn your gums by saturating them with peroxide (a custom tray is molded to your mouth so bleach hits only your teeth). Paint-ons, applied to the teeth with a wand or a brush, and strips, which restrict the chemicals to a small piece of plastic, are safe. But don't get obsessed—overbleached teeth assume a gray tint.