Teeth whitening is one of the most common aesthetic procedures done in a dental clinic. Everyone deserves to have a bright, white smile and teeth whitening is the simplest starting- point for achieving that goal.
More recently though, teeth whitening home remedies and hacks have gained significant popularity largely due to social media. My colleague, Dr Lynette Ng and I thought we’d put these hacks to the test and give it our verdict.
In this article, I would like to address a few questions that always get asked about teeth whitening and address some common myths and home-remedies that are popular on the web.
1. Are Home Remedies Effective In Whitening Teeth?
A few common whitening hacks that are popular include,
- brushing teeth with baking soda
- using activated charcoal
- rinsing with lemon water/apple cider vinegar
- rubbing of fruit peels such as banana or lemon
Some of these (such as activated charcoal) may help remove external teeth stains but in our experiment, (see video) most showed limited to no noticeable improvement in tooth colour. In addition, the acidity of some of the products made our teeth more sensitive than normal (although it was only temporary).
Long term use of acidic products can cause more permanent damage such as the erosion of the outer covering of our teeth, exposing it to a greater risk of tooth decay and sensitivity. Loss of this white outer layer can also cause yellowing of the tooth, not whitening.
2. What is The Safest Way to Whiten Teeth?
Most over-the-counter products that are currently available such as teeth whitening strips are safe owing to the very low concentration of teeth whitening gel / active ingredient present.
However, the overall colour improvement, as a result, might also be limited. A dentist-prescribed professional teeth whitening procedure (either “in-clinic” or “take-home”) will always give better results.
Recently several “non-dental” establishments have started offering whitening services. These ought to be viewed with caution as safety concerns always exist with materials used during teeth whitening.
3. Can I swallow saliva during teeth whitening?
Yes, the teeth whitening gel is safe. The by-products when peroxide is broken down is largely oxygen (the byproduct that allows for the whitening process) and water.
For your comfort, during the in-clinic teeth whitening procedure, a suction device will be used to remove any excess saliva that may pool around the mouth.
In case you happen to swallow any teeth whitening gel, and you’re concerned about the peroxide in the whitening gel, fear not, it’s unlikely to be a large enough quantity that could harm your body.
4. Does Oil Pulling Help Whiten My Teeth?
No, oil pulling does not help you whiten your teeth.
Oil pulling is a traditional Indian folk remedy that is thought to improve one’s general oral health. The process involves swishing a tablespoon of oil around your gums and teeth for anywhere from 5-15 minutes.
Popular types of oils recommended for pulling include coconut oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil
Currently, there is no evidence to show that it can whiten teeth. Certainly, with our “experiment” we did not notice any improvement in tooth colour or shade.
5. Can Baking Soda Help Whiten My Teeth?
Another popular teeth whitening myth is using baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to help improve tooth colour.
A common home remedy is to purée or crush some fruit (eg. strawberries), mix in well with baking soda and brush for 2 mins. Unfortunately, this did not improve our tooth colour either.
In addition, it did cause some tooth sensitivity when brushing, which was not a pleasant experience.
6. Can Brushing With Turmeric Powder Whiten Teeth?
Turmeric is a plant that belongs to the same family as ginger. Although there are possibly many health benefits from consuming turmeric, there isn’t any evidence to show that brushing with turmeric powder alone can whiten your teeth. (Source)
In fact, if you have tooth colour fillings which are resins, the fillings can absorb the turmeric stain and discolour.
7. Is it painful to get your teeth whitened?
Although some degree of teeth sensitivity and discomfort may be expected, these effects are temporary and usually resolve within 24-48 hours.
For individuals who already have sensitive teeth, this is easily managed by using desensitising toothpaste or rinses 1 week before the teeth whitening procedure.
The post-whitening sensitivity can be usually managed with special “desensitising cream or gel” which may be prescribed both before and after the procedure.
8. Are The Teeth Whitening Effects Permanent?
We all know the saying, “nothing lasts forever”. This is true with teeth whitening treatment as well.
On average, professional teeth whitening treatment done with a dentist could last between 9-12 months. To enhance and prolong your results, a take-home teeth whitening kit can be used. This ensures that the teeth whitening results are at their optimal if home whitening is done regularly every 3-6 months.
Of course, staying away from food and drink that stain (eg. coffee, tea and red wine) together with good oral hygiene and regular dental maintenance appointments can prolong your teeth whitening results.
9. How Can I Get Teeth As White As Hollywood Stars?
Teeth whitening will give you an improvement of tooth colour of 7-8 shades. However, we cannot choose the final results. The results obtained are within the parameters of how your tooth reacts to the gel and the thickness of your tooth enamel.
If your expectation or goal is a Hollywood smile, cosmetic dentistry (crowns and veneers) is the option for you. These can drastically change both tooth colour and shape especially if more than 1 tooth or an entire smile is involved.
The downside is that crowns and veneers are more invasive than teeth whitening, so always do consult your dental professional for an option most suitable for you.
10. Do I Need To Change My Diet After Teeth Whitening To Maintain The Results?
Immediately after teeth whitening, it’s best to stay away from any deeply coloured food and drink (as a rule of thumb, if it can stain a white shirt, it’s best avoided).
After 24 hours, regular eating and drinking can resume. Always be mindful, coloured food and drinks like coffee and tea will cause external stains on your teeth.
Hence keeping your intake low, or sipping with a straw may help prolong the results of your whitening.