Our culture is becoming increasingly fascinated with white teeth. With ‘news’ stories in front of us everyday showing us celebrities with their shiny, very white teeth, it seems that so many of us these days want to have an ultra white smile too.
We are told that conventional teeth whitening (bleaching) is safe from experts. Yet others warn of the risks of conventional teeth whitening. Much of the confusion stems from the fact that the ‘facts’ around teeth whitening have been blurred intentionally. Then we hear how Julia Roberts only uses baking soda to keep her smile bright. But is baking soda even a safe option?
In today’s article on how to naturally whiten your teeth without destroying your enamel, we will detail several strategies that we have researched and deem to be safe for long-term use. We will also provide some ‘supercharged’ strategies to provide extra whitening support without the potential risks associated with conventional whitening (bleaching) treatments.
How can I naturally whiten my teeth safely?
As we are all a part of our society, I’m sure you are well aware of the ‘I want it now’ mentality. I mean, each of us has this impatient 3 or 4-year-old child within us that wants today’s desires fulfilled YESTERDAY.
If we allow our impatient inner child to steer us when it comes to whitening our teeth, we’re heading toward trouble.
The analogy of a sprint vs a marathon
If we want massive whitening fast, we’re going to pay for that in the long run. We have to be willing to think about ‘the long game’ rather than short term benefits.
The good news is there are plenty of protocols you can apply that will help to naturally whiten your teeth without destroying your enamel, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
The long term game plan to a healthy white smile
1. Take dated photos of your smile so you can track your progress. You know we love feedback mechanisms as they give us an objective way to see our progress. Without feedback mechanisms like a photo, it’s really tough to see the positive changes you’re making.
2. Set a course. Read through this list below and decide what strategy you plan to use. Then give yourself 2-3 months and mark on your calendar the day to take your second ‘before/after’ photo. Be sure to take the photos in the same location at the same time of day, for lighting purposes.
3. Whatever strategy you choose, be sure to know how to stop causing your teeth to dull so you can get a jump start on your natural whitening plan. After all, letting red wine or a green smoothie sit on your teeth while wanting to naturally whiten your teeth is taking two steps forward and one step back.
Our favorite safe whitening strategies
1. Oil pulling
Hands down, our favorite whitening strategy is oil pulling. Just in case you aren’t familiar with oil pulling, here’s an article we wrote several years ago detailing this ‘old school’ detox protocol.
The reason oil pulling is our favorite solution for naturally whitening our teeth is because unlike so many whitening strategies that have risks of damaging enamel and gum tissue, oil pulling actually helps reduce tooth decay and gingivitis.
The downside to oil pulling is it does take some time as the protocol does traditionally suggest 20 minutes of actively swishing oil around your mouth.
The reason oil pulling works to help whiten teeth is similar to what oil is doing in your car’s engine. Think about it. When the oil in your car is changed, the clean oil going in is, well, clean. And the used oil that leaves your car is all gunky. That gunk is any waste from the engine running being gathered up and removed from the engine by the oil.
The same goes for oil pulling. It’s been scientifically proven that oil pulling helps to stop gum disease. And if you use coconut oil, you’ll lower your risk of tooth decay too. A component of coconut oil, called monolaurin, has shown to be a very effective antimicrobial on the main bug implicated with tooth decay, strep mutans.
(By the way, if you’d like to learn other reasons why oil pulling is good for us, here’s a video about a similar, related technique.)
2. Baking soda
While some on the internet may argue that baking soda is too abrasive for regular use in the mouth, the science says that baking soda is actually pretty soft. In a recent article titled ‘What’s the Safest and Most Effective Abrasive for Naturally Whiter Teeth’, we discussed a term called Relative Dentin Abrasivity or RDA for short.
On this scale, dental researchers have ranked lots of oral hygiene products to determine how abrasive they are. The scale goes from 0 being no abrasivity to 269 that would do well to polish your grandfather’s antique car bumper.
Baking soda is a 7 on the RDA scale, so really low abrasivity.
The game with using baking soda to whiten is to gently focus on the front teeth while the baking soda shifts from powder to solution mixed with saliva. Once baking soda is basically liquid in your mouth (mixed with saliva), it will still have some gentle ability to remove stains, but if you want to focus on whitening, focus on front teeth first.
Remember, gentle. It’s a marathon. Just because baking soda has a low RDA score doesn’t mean that you can’t scrub too hard with it.
Clays have a unique ability to be very soft (low abrasive) yet able to polish more effectively. In fact, one specific type of clay, white kaolin clay, has the high score from the research on its ‘Cleaning Efficiency’. This cleaning efficiency is a combination of a low abrasivity score and a high ability to remove stains.
While any clay is decent, white kaolin clay is the best by quite a bit.
Same game as with baking soda. Focus on front teeth while the clay is incorporated into saliva.
4. Activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is another very popular at home alternative teeth whitening strategy.
Some say it does wonders. Others argue that it doesn’t work.(1) We think much of the disparity of opinions could be that those who say activated charcoal doesn’t work expect charcoal to work like their commercial whitening strips (aka overnight) (2).
Remember the marathon…
Similar to oil pulling, it makes sense how activated charcoal would draw stains out of the teeth.
After all, activated charcoal is used internally when one suspects a recent case of food poisoning. In fact, we always carry a bottle of activated charcoal capsules when traveling in case of the risk of food poisoning from eating out while on the road.
Potential risks of daily use of activated charcoal?
However, we do have some concerns about potential problems that may exist from regular use of activated charcoal as a whitening tooth powder.
You see, the reason activated charcoal works on food poisoning is because it binds up whatever it comes into contact with. Warnings exist regarding the internal use of activated charcoal as activated charcoal can interfere with absorption of medications as well as vitamins and minerals.
One of the reasons we brush our teeth is to increase the saliva in our mouths to provide our teeth the necessary remineralization that occurs from contact with lots of saliva. However, if we brush with activated charcoal on a daily basis, our concern is the charcoal’s binding ability will tie up the minerals necessary and inhibit this important remineralizing action of saliva.
So, we consider brushing with activated charcoal safe so long as you use it sparingly or perhaps for 1-2 weeks to whiten your teeth. We don’t encourage using activated charcoal in the mouth on a daily basis until further research shows that doing so doesn’t inhibit remineralization.
5. Dilute hydrogen peroxide
We know that some of you may be saying right now, “Wait a second! Isn’t it hydrogen peroxide that causes all the problems in conventional teeth whitening treatments?” And you’re right.
However, like with many situations, the details make the difference.
In this case, we have to consider the concentration of hydrogen peroxide used in the mouth.
Many studies show that hydrogen peroxide is dangerous at higher concentrations like those used in conventional whitening treatments. Some studies even show potential risks at concentrations as low as 3%.
Back to the marathon…
If you choose to use hydrogen peroxide to support teeth whitening, keep it really low concentration. We don’t suggest using anything higher than 1% (max 1.5%) concentration.
Our bodies produce hydrogen peroxide
Given all the mixed press on hydrogen peroxide, it may be helpful to know that the human body produces hydrogen peroxide primarily in the lungs, gut and thyroid gland. A fascinating study done in 2009 at Harvard University suggests that the presence of hydrogen peroxide actually ‘calls’ the immune system to an injury. (3) This makes sense when you consider that hydrogen peroxide is such a biologically fundamental ‘defense’ strategy at a cellular level.
For this reason, we stand behind the idea of using dilute hydrogen peroxide when someone is effectively addressing significant gum disease.
But given the mixed studies in the literature regarding the relative safety of hydrogen peroxide, since we’re talking about the cosmetic issue of whiter teeth, maybe give other solutions above a try first and save hydrogen peroxide for more serious matters like infections.
That said if you choose to use dilute hydrogen peroxide in the mouth, keep the concentration really low and swish for several minutes to increase the ‘time on the teeth’.
Honorable mention goes to using powdered turmeric as a natural tooth whitener.
We haven’t tried using turmeric in this way so can’t speak to its effectiveness. However, here’s a word of warning… Turmeric will stain anything it touches including your clothes, your toothbrush, and your bathroom sink. However, folks who claim turmeric helps whiten teeth are happy to show you their smiles that aren’t stained.