Dentists Lay Down the Law on Teeth Whitening Hacks
There are plenty of blogs and Pinterest boards promising Ross-levels of pearly whites with ingredients such as baking soda, activated charcoal, and strawberries. Curious about the safety and efficacy of these common teeth whitening hacks, we went on a mythbusting mission with several dentists.
Fun fact: Because of its ability to absorb so well, activated charcoal was once used as a remedy for poison. Recently, though, medicinal-grade activated charcoal has been used as a means to whiten teeth. But is a mouthful of charcoal worth whatever results—if any results at all—it may produce?
"The belief is that is can help in the removal of 'tannins,' which are stain-causing compounds found in things like coffee and wine," says Mark Olson, a dentist at Modern Dentistry in Newport Beach. "The bottom line is that it may have a limited effect, but won't give you the powerful whitening you can get with professional whitening products."
Another issue with activate charcoal is that it's abrasive. In fact, several of the dentists we spoke to expressed this as a primary concern. If you're really set on trying it, swish it around your mouth instead of scrubbing your teeth with it.
"My concern is that the abrasiveness can cause irreversible damage by removing enamel. Once the enamel is gone, teeth are more prone to sensitivity, cavities, and the darker layer below enamel, dentin, will show through more, making the teeth appear less white," says Samantha Sacchetti, a dentist at Chicago's Forever Dental. She says that once your enamel is gone, it won't grow back.
Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide
These two ingredients have many uses, and are generally considered safe. In fact, Dr. Olson says "both these ingredients are found in over-the-counter toothpastes" and says that over time they will give you a brighter smile.
"Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda release free radicals that break down stains on tooth enamel, which cause a brighter and whiter smile," explains dentist Kami Hoss of The Howard Academy. "It's best to limit the use of this method to three times a week, and it's very important that individuals continue to rinse their mouth thoroughly afterward to reassure that no hydrogen peroxide or baking soda was left behind."
Strawberries and Baking Soda
The idea behind this white teeth DIY is that strawberries naturally contain malic acid and vitamin C, two ingredients that can naturally brighten your teeth. Unfortunately, these acids can also wear away the enamel on your teeth. The enamel on your teeth is what makes your teeth look white, so the more eroded it is, the duller your grin.
"The bottom line is that this just doesn't work," says Dr. Olson. "While strawberries and baking soda are both very safe, the act of scrubbing your teeth with anything acidic can lead to chemical erosion of teeth—the same process that cause teeth to decay."
Coconut Oil Pulling
For those unacquainted, oil pulling involves swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time. Most oral bacteria have a fatty cell wall that's attracted to the fatty component of coconut oil, explains Dr. Olson. The idea behind oil pulling is that it essentially "pulls" bacteria off your teeth and gums, which creates a healthier mouth and brighter smile.
"This practice is very safe and certainly won't hurt you, but there is no conclusive evidence it can significantly whiten your teeth," Dr. Olson tells us.
Also, the inherent problem with oil pulling is that it very quickly turns into a time-consuming—and sometimes uncomfortable—chore.
"I have a hard enough time convincing patients to floss for a minute a day, let alone trying to convince someone to swish coconut oil around for 20 minutes," says Dr. Sacchetti. Her advice? "If you're dying to incorporate swishing liquids in your mouth into your daily routine, there are plenty of American Dental Association (ADA)-approved rinses, many of which are advertised as whitening rinses."
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Speaking of rinsing your mouth, let's talk about the old-timey hack that involves swishing around diluted apple cider vinegar. The pros are that it can freshen your breath. The cons, says Dr. Olson, are that the acidity can weaken your enamel and that it won't effectively whiten your teeth. Also, it tastes kind of horrible. Again, if you want to do a rinse, consider trying an ADA-approved whitening rinse.
In conclusion, here's a truth bomb straight from Dr. Olson: "If any of these DIY hacks were safer and more effective than what we use professionally, then we would be using them professionally. They seem to be more popular with Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest than with knowledgeable dental professionals."
At the end of the day, your best mode of action is to take preventative measures to avoid stains. And if you're considering a DIY method, you should always talk to a pro.
Additionally, consistent oral hygiene will help keep your teeth brighter and mouth healthier. If you're still looking for a whitening boost, Dr. Sacchetti says to seek out over-the-counter whitening products—including toothpastes, gels, and strips—and to talk to your dentist about prescription-level whitening products that will safely and effectively brighten your smile.