How to Whiten Teeth Naturally: A Dentist's Guide for Natural Approaches to Teeth Whitening by Charles Sutera, DMD, FAGD
People crave white teeth, which is probably why the teeth whitening industry is one of the largest in health care. With Americans spending billions on teeth whitening annually and even getting creative with natural teeth whitening, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the topic.
Right up front, you should know, I’m not sponsored by any brands. I’ll give you my thoughts on various popular remedies and how well they work – not based on brands. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
Adjust Your Expectations
Newsflash: Teeth aren’t naturally white. Well, not pure white. All teeth are actually a variety of different hues, including tones of yellow, red and gray. So, when we discuss how to whiten teeth, you must have proper expectations. The teeth should be white, but not glow-in-the-dark white.
Teeth are also tools that we use every day and, like other tools, they begin to show wear-and-tear. Some wear-and-tear can be “fixed.” Stains from foods, drinks and other things like smoking can be removed. However, other types of wear-and tear-can be trickier. What I’m talking about here is your tooth enamel.
Stains that have “soaked in” to the enamel can be removed. But if the enamel itself has worn thin, the yellow you see is the dentin below the enamel showing through. That’s not a stain that can be removed.
The takeaway here? Do all that you can to protect your tooth enamel. It’s not a self-replicating material.
Whitening Teeth With Natural Options
If you’ve been on YouTube or Instagram lately, you’ll notice there are tons of trends regarding natural teeth whitening. We’ll talk about some of the more common techniques, discuss what they are, and give you my verdict on whether they work or not.
I must admit when I first heard of it, I thought to myself, gosh that’s got to be a bunch of gobbledygook. It didn’t seem to make any sense. But I reviewed some studies and I came around a little bit (emphasis on a little).
Basically, oil pulling is an ancient folk remedy that claims to whiten teeth, freshen breath and reduce the chance of cavities by using a like-attracts-like approach. Meaning: some of the gunk on our teeth is oil based and therefore it’s better dissolved by another oil rather than a water-based toothpaste.
Here's how you do it: You use about a tablespoon of oil and then simply swish it around for 10 to 20 minutes. Yes, 10 to 20 minutes. Can you do that? As I see it, that’s issue No. 1 with oil pulling.
Oil pulling should work with many different types of oil, but most people recommend using coconut oil simply because it tastes better.
Verdict: Oil pulling may have benefits and appears to be low risk. It’s safe to try, but may or may not provide any effect as a natural teeth whitening alternative.
Fruit Peels and Rinds
The past few years you may have seen some celebrities touting fruit rinds as a natural teeth whitening remedy. The concept involves using tangerine, orange, banana or lemon peels and gently rubbing it on your teeth for about two minutes, and then thoroughly brushing your teeth. It is believed the peels of fruit serve as a natural teeth whitening aid because of citric acid. The citric acid theoretically helps in teeth whitening.
Are fruits and their peels a natural teeth whitening aid? The studies of how fruits and their rinds serve as a natural teeth whitening aid are inconclusive. While strawberries may help exfoliate your teeth, they are unlikely to penetrate the stains on your teeth. One study found that a toothpaste containing bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, was significantly more effective at removing tooth stains than standard toothpaste. In another study in which rubbing tangerine rinds produced a whitening effect, one would question was it the tangerine ingredients or simply the rubbing motion that worked off the stains?
My main concern here is that citric acid can wear down your tooth enamel.
Verdict: Don’t do it.
Side note: this is also why we don’t recommend brushing your teeth immediately after eating or drinking. Acids in our diet can weaken tooth enamel, so it’s better to wait 20 minutes before brushing.
How to Prevent Stained Teeth
The most incredible health superpower we humans have is prevention. While teeth naturally will darken with age, there are certainly things we can all do to help prevent stains and the darkening of our teeth over time.
Try to limit foods and drinks that stain your teeth. Some of the worst offenders for teeth staining are coffee, red wine, sodas and some of the dark fruits. The thing about diet is that its effect on our teeth is cumulative. Teeth have small pores that, over time, begin to take in these stains.
Here are a couple of pro tips:
- Drink dark beverages through a straw.
- Rinse your mouth thoroughly with water soon after you eat. Make it a habit. It helps prevent stains.
Another big offender that darkens our teeth over time is smoking or using chewing tobacco. Both these habits do a number on our health as well as our teeth.
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