This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what we’re eating, drinking, and buying. Here, Emily Farris writes about the toothpaste that actually works on her coffee-stained teeth.

Damn, your teeth look white!

That’s what I said to myself recently after checking my smile for any lingering bits of lunch. It was the first time I’d ever noticed the whiteness of my teeth, though I’d been half-assedly attempting to whiten them for nearly 20 years.

Finally, one of those attempts has actually worked—switching to Sensodyne Extra Whitening Toothpaste.

As an overscheduled mom of two small kids who sometimes exceeds the recommended daily allowance of caffeine (a thing I also did before I had children to blame), my teeth have always been a little yellow-ish. It’s never bothered me enough to quit drinking coffee, but I have wasted a lot of money on whitening products that often did more harm than good.

Some burned my gums and made my teeth so sensitive I couldn’t enjoy my cherished coffee or even a cold can of La Croix without wincing. The worst offenders, however, were SLS-laden toothpastes and mouthwashes that removed more flesh from the inside of my mouth than stains from my teeth—and, once, a homemade combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide that effectively bleached my gum tissue, though thankfully only temporarily.

For the sake of my wallet and my overall oral health, I eventually gave up on over-the-counter whitening products, and I completely swore off any DIY solutions. That is, until last December, when my colleague Emily Johnson and I somehow ended up talking about our dental hygiene habits.

Emily’s thirst for coffee almost rivals mine. So when she mentioned that she’s a longtime Sensodyne devotee and that she regularly receives compliments on her white teeth, I couldn’t add a tube of Sensodyne Extra Whitening Toothpaste to my Target cart quickly enough.

Sensodyne Extra Whitening Toothpaste$7 at Target$7 at Amazon

I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t notice an immediate change. Not in a few days or even a few weeks. After a few months had passed, I’d stopped thinking about whitening altogether. But because the Sensodyne didn’t cause any problems, I kept buying it.

And then one day, about five months and three tubes in, I smiled in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised by my noticeably whiter teeth.

When I asked Jada Kurth, DDS, a dentist in Sioux City, Iowa, why the Sensodyne whitens better than other brands, she told me it doesn’t contain anything that would make it more effective than its competitors at removing surface stains. In fact, she said, the active ingredients are for reducing sensitivity, and the whitening agents (hydrated silica and sodium hydroxide) are listed as inactive.

But it turns out my whiter teeth weren’t all in my head, either—at least not figuratively.

“The Sensodyne Extra Whitening works by depolarizing the nerve tissue, essentially stopping the nerve from sending the signal to your brain that it’s in pain,” Kurth told me. She explained that because I wasn’t experiencing any tooth or gum irritation (at least not any that I could feel), I’d probably just stuck with the Sensodyne longer than I had any other whitening products.

Such a simple explanation—that I was able to use the Sensodyne long enough for it to do what it claims to—doesn’t exactly make for a thrilling story, but I am thrilled with the results. No, it doesn’t deliver the instant gratification of shock-and-awe-style whitening. But like pushing the button on my beloved Nespresso machine, it’s something I do (at least) twice a day without having to think about it.

Sensodyne Extra Whitening Toothpaste$7 at Target$7 at Amazon

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