Here are the facts you need to keep your smile bright AND healthy.

I use whitening toothpaste morning and night. Is this safe for my teeth and gums?

Whitening toothpastes are generally safe for daily use but should not be used more often than the label indicates or your dentist advises. They contain both special chemicals and polishing agents to remove stains, which can lead to teeth and gum sensitivity and damage the tooth enamel over time if relied on too much.

Like any good toothpaste, most whitening blends have fluoride as the active ingredient, which fights cavities and gum disease but doesn't whiten. The actual brightening effect is mostly due to the mechanical abrasives (common ones are silica and baking soda) that scrub away stains. Some brands also include a dose of peroxide, a bleaching chemical, but in such small amounts that it's unlikely to cause sensitivity or irritation.

You should know that whitening toothpastes—even if they contain peroxide—act only on surface stains, like those caused by drinking tea or coffee. If you're unhappy with the color of your teeth, ask your dentist about professionally applied or over-the-counter peroxide products, typically in the form of special gel trays or strips; they have higher peroxide concentrations and are designed to reach deeper stains in the tooth enamel. (Over-the-counter options usually contain 5 to 15 percent peroxide, while dentist-administered products tend to have 25 to 40 percent.)

Keep in mind that the American Dental Association recommends that you talk to your dentist before using any teeth-whitening products so you can determine the best option for you.

Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.