Teeth Whitening Guide

Whitening your teeth is a cosmetic practice long past trend-territory. It can be traced back to the early Romans and prehistoric housewives. In the twenty-first century, about 89% of U.S. surveyed orthodontists had patients requesting their teeth whitened. If you want to skip the dental bill, over-the-counter and home remedies are the most popular. There are a lot of ways to go about shining your grill and we’ll break them down below.

The Science Behind It

After speaking with five doctors in our review of the best teeth whitening products, it was clear the medical field stands behind the proven efficacy of one method — hydrogen peroxide. The American Dental Association claims it’s the only thing that works to remove both surface and deep stains.

Guaranteed pearly whites can be achieved with bleaching or non-bleaching techniques. A product that bleaches the tooth will contain the peroxides that can remove deep and surface stains by releasing oxygen into the enamel. While non-bleaching products will use chemical action to remove only surface stains.

The ADA reports the safe upper limit for hydrogen peroxide in a product is 10%, and for carbamide peroxide (a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and urea) it’s 35%. Over-the-counter methods contain lower percentages than a professional bleaching and are safe to use in moderation. At high percentages, however, these chemicals can cause burning sensations, tooth sensitivity, tissue damage, and be corrosive to membranes.


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Mistakes and Misconceptions

Don’t skip a customized dental tray. Mouthguards that aren’t designed for teeth whitening and your mouth should never be used to hold and apply whitening solutions. The bleaching contents can harm your gums and throat is the tray isn’t properly designed.

Whitening toothpastes are a weaker solution compared to other whitening products. The toothpastes can only work on superficial stains (discoloration occurs on the inner dentin), and only improve by one shade lighter. That minimal whitening can only last as long as you keep up the brushing routine too. Bleaching, on the other hand, can change teeth color by three to eight shades for several years.

More is not merrier. It’s important to use whitening products in moderation, especially if those products are bleaching. Bleachorexia, is a term for people who whiten their teeth on a weekly basis. This kind of habit will wear down your teeth’s enamel which increases sensitivity and eventually make the teeth yellower. Follow the directions and listen to your doctor. This mantra will apply to natural products too. Though excessive strawberries or charcoal brushing won’t burn your gums, they will wear down protective layers on your teeth.

Whitening isn’t cleaning. Just because you’ve done you regular whitening routine, doesn’t mean your teeth are clean. It’s important to brush and floss after whitening and maintain a healthy cleaning routine.

Alternative and Natural Methods

While the dentists we spoke with explained that there’s no hard evidence for the efficacy of homeopathic methods, if you have particularly sensitive teeth, or would rather whiten your teeth without chemicals, there are some popular home remedies that may yield results. Each of the all-natural alternative methods for teeth whitening below has its own cult following, but as with any cosmetic product, results will vary.

MethodHow it works
Oil pullingUsing some kind of unrefined, high-quality oil — anything from sesame to coconut oil — you swish for anywhere between five and twenty minutes. Theoretically, this process can remove bacteria, toxins, and plaque. Apple cider vinegar is a popular non-oil option, too.
Baking sodaBrushing with baking soda is a longstanding method that can help with tooth discoloration. You’ll want to keep this practice pretty casual though, as daily scrubbing can be harsh on the teeth. Baking soda can also taste pretty gross, so we recommend sprinkling some onto your regular toothpaste once a week.
CharcoalA jack of all trades in the health and beauty world. It’s used in face masks, cleansers, soaps, and can also be used to whiten your teeth. When you brush with the black powder, it absorbs plaque and bacteria.
Fruits and vegetablesAs natural as it gets. Acids found in fruits like strawberries and pineapple can work to remove discoloration and exfoliate your teeth. Crunchy, raw vegetables (like celery or carrots) can help remove plaque, too.
LED lightsThe latest teeth whitening trend. They typically include a paste (either bleaching or all-natural), which you apply in an LED mouthpiece before turning the light on for about 20 minutes. In the same way that sunlight can bleach and lighten your hair or clothes — the LED light is meant to lighten teeth, kill bacteria, and ease inflammation. The ADA reports there’s been no evidence of long-term benefit, but that there’s also no harm in using it.

Tips for Better Mouth Health

Avoid things that stain teeth. Help maintain a bright white smile by avoiding foods, liquids, and habits that will stain your teeth. Wine, coffee, smoking, and even berries can discolor the surface layer of teeth. As long as you aren’t consuming daily, you should be able to avoid deep staining. If these types of intake are occurring too frequently, the stain will seep past the enamel and take up permanent residence.

Brush and floss daily. This may seem like an obvious tip, but according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only 30% of the U.S. population flosses daily. Flossing is essential for avoiding cavities and gum inflammation by removing food particles and bacteria that can cause gum disease and harden into tartar. The prolonged presence of tartar will wear at the bone and kill the tooth. If you have particularly red or sensitive gums, it’s likely you aren’t flossing enough.

Keep your scrubbing to two minutes. The recommended brushing routine is two minutes twice a day. Any less than this and you may not be cleaning your teeth thoroughly. But any more than this and you can eventually wear down your enamel and damage your gums. Be sure to scrub in short strokes and around every surface of each tooth.

Don’t brush right after acidic foods or drinks. Though you may feel the urge to scrub away the red tint from wine or berries — immediate brushing can simply rub those staining materials in further. Eventually, it’ll soften your teeth and (you guessed it) wear down your enamel. Try swishing with water instead!

Regularly visit the dentist. Check-ups and cleanings at the dentist should occur about every six months. This is to ensure your teeth are in tip-top shape and to catch any dangerous dental issues early on. Putting this off could lead to dental diseases, swollen gums, or a loss of teeth.