DIY Tooth Whitening. Does it Work?

There are an awful lot of websites and blogs that promote DIY tooth whitening with products lying around your house. Some of these, malic acid for example, may work to a small extent. Others, like oil pulling, have some research behind them, but have only proven mildly efficacious. And others still, like turmeric, are counter-intuitive and may even serve to further discolor the teeth.

Because there are so many DIY tooth whitening suggestions, it can be difficult to separate the effective from the ridiculous — but even the worst of these is more likely to stain teeth than to damage them. The real concern comes with suggestions like charcoal teeth whitening, which can actually cause serious and permanent damage. Worse still, there are no studies suggesting that activated charcoal is actually effective at whitening teeth. All evidence is, at present, anecdotal. And the long-term risks associated with charcoal teeth whitening are now well established.

According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, “Internet advertisements [regarding charcoal tooth whitening] included unsubstantiated therapeutic claims — such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and oral detoxification, as well as potentially misleading product assertions.” In fact, studies have found that using charcoal to whiten teeth causes irreversible enamel damage, exposes underlying dentin and further yellowing the teeth, and increases risks for:

· Dental carries (cavities)

· Enamel abrasion

In the end, the ADA found “[I]nsufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.” And suggested, “Dental clinicians should advise their patients to be cautious when using charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices with unproven claims of efficacy and safety.”

In short, don’t try to whiten your teeth with activated charcoal. A majority of the scientific literature regarding this method of DIY teeth whitening suggests it is, at best ineffective and at worst unsafe. When there are so many other options to brighten your smile, why take unnecessary risks?

Natural Tooth Whitening

Natural tooth whitening with products from home sounds attractive. It offers the possibility of a brilliant smile without any significant investment and, because these products are “natural,” they’re often believed to be safer than bleaches and more traditional forms of tooth whitening.

The problem is, “natural” does not mean “safe,” and even those that are demonstrably safe are all too often ineffective, resulting in wasted time and resources for little to no discernible benefit.

Touted as miracle DIY natural tooth whiteners are things like:

· Fruit

· Coconut oil

· Activated charcoal

· Baking soda

· Hydrogen peroxide

· Turmeric

Mouth Healthy, an ADA website, has published an article examining the efficacy of these natural tooth whiteners and, with the exception of baking soda and peroxide, has found no evidence that any of them work. As we’ve already discussed, some of them can actually be damaging to teeth, further pushing them into the realm of DIY beauty treatments that should just be avoided.

Effective Tooth Whitening Options

The most effective tooth whitening options are topical bleaches. Toothpastes containing peroxide or baking soda may work to remove surface stains, but they cannot address deeper discoloration.

There are dozens of take-home tooth whitening kits available at drug stores and supermarkets. These use special bleaching gels to gradually lighten teeth over the course of two to four weeks. Store-bought whitening kits will come with one-size-fits-all application trays which may be uncomfortable for some people. If you fear discomfort from a store-bought tooth whitener, talk to your dentist about your professional take-home options.

Take-home kits from your dentist will come with application trays that have been molded to your teeth. This allows for a more even application of the bleaching solution, which can help ensure consistent results. Snug application trays can also minimize solution leakage, helping to prevent irritation to surrounding oral tissue.

For faster results, you may wish to consider in-office teeth whitening. With this service, your dentist can lighten your teeth up to ten shades over the course of 45 to 60 minutes. Rapid whitening may increase tooth sensitivity for some patients, but many professional solutions address this with the inclusion of anti-sensitivity ingredients. Still, in-office whitening may not be the best solution for every person.

Professional tooth whitening offers several distinct advantages over both DIY solutions and store-bought alternatives. Safer, more reliable, and often much faster, teeth whitening through a trusted dentist remains the most effective option available today.

Maintaining Results

Tooth whitening toothpastes are most effective following professional teeth whitening services. Ingredients like baking soda may prove very effective at maintaining results by preventing the buildup of topical stains. However, if you have porcelain veneers or dental crowns, abrasive toothpastes may be a bad idea. Talk to your dentist about options that may be safer for your smile.

In the end, the creation and maintenance of a brilliant smile are best achieved with the help of a trusted dentist. Choosing to work with a dentist also means that your tooth whitening will be done under the supervision of someone who is equipped to deal with any issues that may arise while your smile is being perfected — and who has the resources and tools needed to address all of your smile’s imperfections.

Dr. Phelps is an experienced prosthodontist and dentist with a full-service dental practice in Indianapolis

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