How these 4 popular teeth whitening home remedies stack up

Aug 08, 2023
Teeth whitening home remedies aren't as forgiving as you think. Source: Getty.

If you have ever scoured the internet for teeth whitening home remedies, then you’d know there’s a lot of advice out there — from sipping on lemon juice to rubbing activated charcoal onto your teeth. And while the advice has good intentions, many teeth whitening home remedies can do more harm than good, dentist Arosha Weerakoon tells Starts at 60.

“Teeth aren’t as forgiving as say your hair, we know that hair will grow back most of the time, but teeth don’t,” she explains.

So, in an attempt to get to the bottom of it, we asked Weerakoon to look into some of the most popular teeth whitening home remedies, to find out whether they stack up or not.

Activated charcoal

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about activated charcoal — one of the newest teeth whitening crazes sweeping the oral health world. But if you haven’t, activated charcoal is a fine, black powder typically made from carbon-containing materials like wood, coconut shells and olive pits, that is heated at high temperatures to create charcoal, then oxidised — a process known as activation.

It’s believed that the charcoal can remove stains from your teeth because it’s highly absorbent. However, according to Weerakoon, “the effectiveness is yet to be proven”. A study in the British Dental Journal published in early 2019 found that charcoal provides little to no protection against tooth decay.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice has been a popular at-home whitening remedy for many years thanks to its acidity. However, Weerakoon says while lemon juice may at first dissolve any stains on the surface of your teeth, over time it could actually erode the outer enamel coating of your teeth — and enamel erosion is often irreversible.

Lemons have been used as a teeth whitening home remedy for years. Source: Getty.

Baking soda

Weerakoon says using baking soda to whiten teeth is another bad idea. She says unless you have super obvious coffee, tea and wine stains, using baking soda will actually abrade, as opposed to erode, the tooth enamel and structure.

“Over time, this will actually make your teeth look yellow,” she adds.

Oil pulling

Oil pulling has been around for some time now, however, Weerakoon says it’s not clear how effective this method is. The practice involves swirling oil around your mouth and then spitting it out. People usually use coconut oil, sunflower oil, or sesame seed oil.

“From what I understand, this will actually reduce the amount of plaque (bacteria) and may help with gum disease,” Weerakoon says. However, she says the practice may not necessarily be effective in removing stains.

coconut oil
Coconut oil is one of the many oils people use for this practice. Source: Getty.

So, what’s the best way to whiten teeth then?

“To be honest, nothing beats professional whitening,” she says. “It’s faster, safer and better managed.”

Weerakoon went on to say that she’d be nervous to recommend any home remedies to her patients, explaining that often people use products like bicarb and lemon juice, but then end up doing irreparable damage to their teeth in the process.

There are two main ways to whiten your teeth professionally: undergoing a whitening treatment such as laser at your dental surgery or being supplied with an at-home whitening kit. Ultimately the decision is up to you, however, it’s best to check with your dentist first.

Alternatively, Weerakoon says there are some good teeth whitening toothpastes on the market as well. However, she cautions against buying online and recommends heading to your local pharmacist instead.

“All dental products that you purchase from Australian pharmacies and dental practices are tightly regulated to keep people safe,” she said.

Weerakoon adds it’s important to note that some teeth will not whiten no matter what you do to them. These include denture teeth, some root-filled teeth, crowns, bridges and teeth that have been filled or veneered. Bleaching teeth with open cavities or leaking fillings can also cause tooth sensitivity. Additionally, it’s not a good idea to get your teeth whitened if your teeth are already sensitive. If in doubt, speak with your dentist about your options.

This article was originally published on March 26, 2021, and has been updated on August 8, 2023. 



IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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