Millions of Americans spend money to whiten their teeth every year. They have them whitened at the dentist or buy products to do so at home. However, some at-home chemical whitening methods can have adverse effects on your enamel.
But what about natural at-home whitening methods?
Natural whitening treatments are controversial. Some natural methods aren’t as effective as people believe them to be. Others may whiten teeth but at the same time damage the enamel. Before embarking on any whitening treatment, it’s important to know the dangers of any at-home remedies and to talk to your dentist before supplementing your professional treatment.
Some people whiten their teeth because they’re self-conscious of stains from age, oral health concerns, smoking, and more. A bright, whitened smile is widely seen as a beauty standard. To look better and feel more confident, people turn to any number of whitening remedies.
What Causes Yellowing?
The yellowing of teeth vary and depend on a person’s age, oral health, and overall health. A smoker is more likely to have yellow teeth and an older person will have yellower teeth than a younger person. If you drink a lot of tea, coffee, or wine, you’re also more likely to have stained teeth.
People with poor oral health tend to have yellower teeth for a variety of reasons. If the enamel has worn away, teeth will be discolored. Plaque buildup can also cause yellowing. In general, good oral health and healthy eating can prevent some, but not all, causes of yellowing.
Many at-home whiteners contain bleach, which can make teeth sensitive. These self-whiteners can also cause gingival irritation, demineralization of the teeth, and the deterioration of dental restoration. These are all causes for concern, but they aren’t unique to at-home chemical whiteners.
Because of these concerns, it’s recommended to whiten your teeth only under the supervision of a dentist. Many dentists offer their own professional whitening treatments that can help you avoid damage to your teeth.
Popular Natural Methods for Whitening Teeth
Most natural whitening methods are not necessarily effective by themselves and aren’t meant to replace professional whitening. Any whitening treatment should be undertaken only with the supervision of a dental professional.
Many natural whitening methods may actually be harmful to your teeth. It’s important to thoroughly research any method you may want to try beforehand and understand the potential risks. It’s also a good idea to check in with your dentist, who may be able to tell you more about the effectiveness or dangers of any particular method.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are well known to be good for our health. They’re filled with vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need. Studies have also found that fruits and vegetables can also lead to improved oral health. Even into older age, eating more healthily increases the quality of people’s oral health.
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Dentistry promotes eating vegetables and fruits for overall oral health. The nutrients and vitamins in fruits and vegetables can help improve gum health and inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth. These vitamins include vitamin C, vitamin B, and antioxidants. These protect the gums from cell damage. Folic acid, which is found in leafy greens, promotes cell growth not just in the mouth but throughout the body.
When it comes to whitening, there isn’t an official study on the effects of eating more fruits and vegetables in general. However, since poor oral health is a cause of yellowing teeth, you can lessen the need to whiten by helping to prevent yellowing in the first place. In addition, fruits and vegetables that are crisp can help remove plaque from your teeth, which in turn helps prevent yellowing.
It’s important to be careful of any fruits that are acidic, however, as studies have found that acids can have adverse effects on the teeth. Acidic beverages, for example, can erode the enamel, which results in yellower teeth because the dentin within the teeth is exposed.
Studies have shown that toothpaste that contains the enzyme bromelain, which is found in pineapples, has been better at whitening teeth than other types of toothpaste. Pineapple extract mixed with hydrogen peroxide has also proven to be effective at whitening.
So far no evidence has suggested that eating pineapples themselves can whiten teeth more so than other fruits. The enzyme bromelain is effective as a part of toothpaste or other whitening mixture, not necessarily by itself when eating pineapples. Plus, pineapples are highly acidic, which can result in damage to your enamel. This doesn’t directly cause tooth decay, but it does wear away at the protection your teeth have against cavities. In addition, allowing the enamel to wear away will cause yellowing and discoloration in the teeth.
Strawberries contain malic acid, which some people believe will remove discolorations from your teeth. Proponents of strawberries as a whitener say to mix strawberry with baking soda. This is said to buff out stains. The strawberry baking soda mixture method has been popular among celebrities.
Researchers at the University of Iowa, however, found that a strawberry and baking soda mixture was ineffective in whitening. Instead, it only removed superficial debris, such as food particles and plaque, which normal brushing should take care of. It may appear that the teeth are whiter after using a strawberry mixture, but it won’t penetrate into the teeth to truly whiten them and break down stains.
In addition, strawberries are risky for your teeth. They contain acid, which can wear away at the enamel and soften your teeth. The danger of brushing your teeth with such an acidic solution can outweigh any benefits you gain from it.
If you do want to try this method, mash up a strawberry and mix it with baking soda. Then, brush your teeth with the mixture. Make sure to only do perform this whitening remedy once a week and to follow up with brushing your teeth aftward. This keeps the acid in the strawberries from damaging your enamel.
A study that compared the effectiveness of strawberry juice, apple juice, and mineral water on whitening teeth found that apple juice was less effective than strawberry juice. Like strawberries, apples contain malic acid. Although many believe malic acid to be a whitening agent, its effectiveness on its own isn’t proven.
Eating apples does still have benefits, however. They’re crisp, which can help remove plaque from teeth. Plus, it contains vitamins that are good for your health. Just like with strawberries, however, the acidity of apples can have negative effects on the enamel.
Oil pulling comes from an Indian tradition that is supposed to remove toxins and improve oral health. In oil pulling, practitioners swish oil around in their mouths, which is supposed to remove the bacteria that can cause yellowing. Coconut oil is a popular choice because of its pleasant taste, health benefits, and because it’s known to reduce inflammation and bacteria.
Studies find oil pulling to be beneficial for oral health if done properly. Current research is limited but supports oil pulling’s effects on bacteria in the mouth.
Reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth can prevent plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath. However, there isn’t any evidence that oil pulling can whiten your teeth beyond helping to prevent the yellowing caused by poor oral hygiene.
To try it, put a tablespoon of coconut oil into your mouth, where you’ll push and pull it through your teeth for 15 to 20 minutes. When you’ve finished, spit it out into a trash can. Coconut oil can solidify and cause pipes or drains to clog. This practice is safe to do daily because it doesn’t involve any acidic substances that could cause enamel erosion.
Baking soda is a common ingredient in toothpaste. This is because it’s naturally whitening. It’s mildly abrasive nature can help remove stains on the surface of your teeth. Baking soda also has the added benefit of making your mouth more alkaline, which inhibits bacterial growth.
Studies have shown that baking soda in toothpaste is an effective whitener. It won’t work overnight, but over a period of time does have significant whitening effects. Toothpaste with baking soda is much better at removing plaque from your teeth. Brushing your teeth with baking soda by itself isn’t proven to have a whitening effect, however.
If you want to try brushing with baking soda alone, mix two teaspoons of water with one teaspoon of baking soda. Then, brush your teeth with the resulting paste. Limit your baking soda brushing to only a few times a week because it can harm the enamel on your teeth. For the best whitening and to protect your teeth, your best bet is to stick with toothpaste that contains baking soda rather than using baking soda alone.
Hydrogen peroxide is something that most people already have at home and is a major ingredient in most whiteners. Studies have found that hydrogen peroxide-based whiteners are effective. These whiteners are also safe to use, provided the directions are followed.
Hydrogen peroxide may have some whitening effects on its own but does have the potential to damage teeth if used in too high a concentration or too frequently. The research done on hydrogen peroxide’s whitening effects focused on hydrogen peroxide-based whiteners, rather than on hydrogen peroxide on its own.
Some people swish hydrogen peroxide like it’s a mouthwash and then spit it out, while others mix it with baking soda to make a paste. If you do choose to try this, it’s important to thoroughly rinse your mouth afterward to minimize any potential damage to your teeth.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been used as a cleaner and as a disinfectant for centuries. Its primary ingredient, acetic acid, if effective at killing bacteria and removing plaque. Research has found that while apple cider vinegar can have some whitening effects, it can also wear away at the enamel and soften your teeth. If you do try to use it, it’s recommended that you don’t use it daily and that you minimize the amount of time the vinegar touches your teeth.
Preventing Yellowing and Tooth Stains Before They Occur
Even better than whitening is to prevent stains on your teeth from appearing in the first place. While some yellowing is unavoidable due to age, it’s still possible to mitigate the effects and to keep your teeth looking whiter. Healthier teeth generally look whiter, even into old age.
Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth. If you cut back on the amount of sugar that you eat, that can help reduce the amount of stain- and plaque-causing bacteria. If you do eat sugary foods, brushing your teeth afterward can help.
Avoid Foods That Can Stain
Certain foods are notorious for staining teeth. These include:
- Red berries
- Red wine
You don’t have to cut them out of your diet completely, but you should minimize the amount of time these foods and drinks are in contact with your teeth to avoid stains. For beverages, you can use a straw to keep the drink from coming into direct contact with your teeth.
A lot of yellowing and discoloration is caused by a loss of enamel, which exposes the yellow dentin within your teeth. To avoid enamel loss, make sure you have plenty of calcium in your diet. This will help strengthen your teeth and enamel.
Brushing and Flossing Well
Even the yellowing that comes with age is still caused by plaque buildup. To prevent this, make sure you brush and floss regularly. Don’t forget to visit your dentist for regular cleanings.
Visit Your Dentist
No matter what your whitening and brushing habits are, you should still be regularly visiting your dentist. Speak to a dental professional about your whitening goals to get professional treatment. Visiting the dentist regularly will also help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar that can cause teeth to yellow in the first place and is an essential part of good oral health.
If you do want to supplement your dentist’s professional whitening with a natural, at-home method, make sure to thoroughly research your choice of whitening method. Be wary of any claims to the effectiveness of a natural method and talk to your dentist before attempting anything on your own.
Many of the popular natural methods can actually damage your teeth, which would cause them to yellow more, so caution is recommended for any whitening method that isn’t done or recommended by your dentist.