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Retouching the Mouth

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Making Teeth Whiter

This is one of those questions that I get just about every other day. The actual form of the question ranges anywhere from “How do I get rid of yellow teeth?” to the simple, “How do I make teeth whiter?” Fortunately, the answer is just about the same for all circumstances.

Method 1: Brightening Dull Teeth

This one works best as an overall teeth-brightening technique. It’s great for teeth that have a grayish tint to them and appear to be a little darker, but not yellow. It also works great when you just want to make the teeth pop out a little more. You can skip to Method 2 if you want to whiten yellow teeth.

  • Step 1. Open a photo where the person’s teeth have a grayish darker tint to them.
  • Step 2. Add a new Levels adjustment layer by clicking on the Create Adjustment Layer icon at the top of the Layers palette and selecting Levels. When the Levels dialog opens, drag the white Input Levels slider on the right about 25% toward the left. Click OK. This will, in effect, lighten the entire photo.
  • Step 3. After you make the adjustment, the Levels adjustment layer will appear above your photo in the Layers palette. You’ll see a little white thumbnail to the right of it. It’s called a mask, but don’t get caught up in the name right now if you’ve never used one before. All you need to do is fill this thumbnail (aka: mask) with black. The easiest way is to press D, then X to set your Foreground color to black, then press Alt-Backspace (Mac: Option-Delete). This will fill the mask with black and hide the effects of the Levels adjustment that we just made.
  • Step 4. Use the Zoom tool (Z) to zoom in on the teeth if you need to. Then, press B to choose the Brush tool, press X to set your Foreground color to white, and start painting over the teeth. This will reveal the Levels adjustment on the teeth only, thus making them whiter.

Method 2: Whitening Yellow Teeth

While the previous technique worked for overall teeth brightening, it would most likely just turn yellow teeth into bright yellow teeth. That’s where this technique steps in. It works best on teeth that have a yellow tint to them.

  • Step 1. Open a photo where the person’s teeth appear to have a yellow tint.
  • Step 2. Press Z to get the Zoom tool and zoom in on the teeth. Press A to get the Selection Brush. Then, in the Options Bar, choose a soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker that is about half the size of one of the teeth.
  • Step 3. Start painting with the Selection Brush to select the teeth. I do a quick pass over the edges first. Then click-and-paint again to cover the rest of the area. Don’t worry if you select a part of the surrounding area, though. We’ll fix that in the next step.
  • Step 4. If you’ve inadvertently painted over some other areas (lips, gums, etc.), then press-and-hold the Alt (Mac: Option) key and start painting to remove them.
  • Step 5. Once you’ve got the teeth selected, press Ctrl-J (Mac: Command-J) to copy them onto a new layer.
  • Step 6. Now go to the Enhance menu and choose Adjust Color>Replace Color.
  • Step 7. In the Replace Color dialog, drag the Fuzziness slider all the way to the right to 200. Then at the bottom of the dialog, take the Saturation slider and move it to the left to around -40. Then take the Lightness slider and move it to the right to +15–20. Try 20 first, and if it’s too bright then pull back to 15. Click OK and you’re done. The teeth should be nice and white.
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