eeth whitening is a popular solution to combat dental discoloration caused by drinking coffee, eating certain foods, smoking and the natural aging process. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), teeth whitening ranked among the highest demand and most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure performed as reported by 351 dental professional respondents.
While teeth whitening can be safe and effective, using the wrong method can also lead to permanent damage to your teeth. Examples of the damage you could encounter when whitening your teeth using certain products or in improper ways include:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Etching of teeth
- Gum irritation
- Teeth appearing more discolored than before whitening
- Increased risk of tooth fracture
- Teeth absorbing more stains than before teeth staining
- Loss of protective enamel
For instance, if you lose enamel, your teeth will become sensitive and darker in color. To avoid these risks, it’s best to opt for safe at-home tooth whitening options or professional teeth whitening from your dentist.
Here is what you should know about how to whiten your teeth at home safely, as well as when it’s time to see a dentist for a professional teeth whitening procedure.
DIY and Other At-Home Teeth Whitening Methods
Everyone wants to enjoy beautiful, white teeth, but it’s essential to avoid methods that could be damaging to your tooth enamel. Many home remedies for tooth whitening exist, and some of them are safer and more effective than others. If you’re wondering how to whiten your teeth without damaging them, consider the following options:
- Whitening Strips: These home tooth-bleaching products mold to the shape of your teeth to whiten natural teeth. In June 2017, the American Dental Association (ADA) awarded Crest 3D White Whitestrips Glamorous White teeth whitening strips its seal of approval in showing safety and efficacy in natural whitening teeth efficacy. It’s the first product in this category to receive the ADA’s seal of approval.
- Whitening Toothpaste: Because they contain low concentrations of carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, whitening toothpaste can lighten tooth shades, but typically only about one or two shades. In their effort to reduce tough stains, whitening toothpaste can be abrasive, resulting in enamel erosion and dentin exposure over time. Whitening toothpaste typically does not contain bleach.
- Whitening Rinses: Like whitening toothpaste, whitening mouth rinses can improve tooth color by up to one or two shades. They contain oxygen sources, like hydrogen peroxide, to lighten teeth. It can take up to three months to see just a one or two-shade improvement and involves rinsing your mouth twice a day for 60 seconds each time.
Natural Teeth Whitening Methods to Avoid
Remember, just because it’s natural does not mean it’s harmless. Many DIY whitening methods cause permanent damage to the enamel of your teeth. Be sure to stay away from the following solutions:
- Lemon and Baking Soda: Some household cleaners comprise this combination, but you definitely shouldn’t apply it to your teeth. A 2008 study found lemon juice is the most corrosive to tooth enamel when compared to grapefruit juice and orange juice. Lemon juice has a pH of just 2.2, which is very acidic. While it may lighten your teeth, it will do so at a significant cost.
- Strawberries: You may hear recommendations to brush your teeth with fresh strawberries for natural whitening, but they get their power from ascorbic acid. Strawberries can be an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet, but it’s necessary to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after eating them, as this acid is harmful to your teeth.
- Activated Charcoal: After a simple search online, people who want to know how to whiten their teeth naturally will quickly discover activated charcoal. With this method, you smear a charcoal-derived black mixture onto your teeth. This naturally occurring form of carbon works by binding with compounds that cause stains — like wine, coffee and plaque — and working to remove them. There are some concerns with activated charcoal, however. The American Dental Association (ADA) says activated charcoal is abrasive enough to damage the enamel of your teeth, and it hasn’t yet been found safe or effective. Activated charcoal is also highly absorbent and can lead to deteriorated enamel and tooth erosion. Because its natural process is so strong, it can wear away your enamel and expose the yellower, softer layers of your teeth. If you still want to try activated charcoal after hearing this, apply it to your teeth as a paste and do not scrub. Do not use it daily. Instead, try it for a week or two to see if it works, then discontinue use. Again, it’s not a recommended at-home teeth whitening method.
- Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar: Dental professionals don’t recommend using a salt and vinegar paste to whiten your teeth. As with lemon juice and strawberries, vinegar is very acidic and causes damage to your teeth, as well as increased risk of tooth decay and sensitivity.
- Wood Ash: A common folk remedy for whitening your teeth is rubbing them with wood ash from a fireplace. This method stems from the fact wood ash contains lye or potassium hydroxide. Unfortunately, aside from being unpleasant, brushing with wood ash can damage your teeth due to the hardness of the lye.
Tips for Keeping Your Teeth White
Along with eating the right foods, it matters when you eat them. To combat the staining effects of pasta sauce, for example, eat a salad first. Spinach and lettuce can create a temporary protective barrier on your teeth to guard against staining. Snacking on dairy, celery or nuts after drinking coffee or eating a stain-causing food can also help clean your teeth and prevent surface discoloration.
And of course, good oral hygiene is essential. No diet or home remedies are a substitute for regular brushing and flossing to remove plaque and cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth. Brush or rinse your mouth right after you’ve finished eating a stain-causing food or drink. You can also use a whitening toothpaste at least once or twice a week to prevent normal yellowing and surface stains.