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When your pearly whites aren't so pearly white, it can be frustrating. There are several methods you can try, like at-home kits, whitening toothpaste, bleaching trays, and even going to the dentist for a treatment. But if you're looking to try something that's easier and you're worried about the chemicals in some methods, you can also opt for natural options.
You should keep in mind that a lot of these natural methods will take much longer than the others, explains Brian Harris, DDS, who's known as The Virtual Dentist. "One should expect to see results within three weeks' time," he says. "If you want to fast-track the process, you can visit your dentist and get a professional cleaning first for the more stubborn stains. When that is completed, maintain the color with a good whitening toothpaste that is abrasive enough to remove stains but not so abrasive that it wears down the enamel."
Before you start deciding if you want to go for natural options, bleaching trays, or an in-dentist visit, it's important to understand what kind of discoloration you have. "There is a difference between chemical teeth whitening and mechanical teeth whitening," Harris says. "Chemical teeth whitening is using chemicals to remove intrinsic stains. Mechanical teeth whitening uses abrasives added to toothpaste to remove extrinsic stains." Also, chemical teeth whiteners usually contain carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide.
Harris explains that intrinsic discoloration is a stain within the tooth structure, which can happen from medications, childhood illness, tooth trauma, or aging. Extrinsic discoloration, on the other hand, is more common and comes from things like foods with dyes, coffee, tea, red wine, and smoking.
Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, and co-founder of Beam Street, adds that a lot of these natural methods don't necessarily whiten the teeth but clean them: "The trend of all things natural has led to the advent of new dental products that help maintain our oral health, but these products do not contain active whitening agents," she says. "As we know it, peroxide is the only known bleaching agent that will actively whiten teeth. Dental brands incorporate peroxides into toothpastes, mouthwashes, or whitening gels to create effective whitening products. The more natural products that have recently hit the market like charcoal toothpaste, coconut floss, and even baking soda will lead to cleaner and more sparkly teeth by removing stains and bacteria, but they do not actually whiten teeth."
Overall, the best way to maintain or achieve a dazzling smile is to visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and to check on your dental health. But if you want to try a natural method, we've rounded up a few options below. Keep in mind that it's advisable to double-check these with your own dentist before trying, or you could end up causing damage to your teeth.
"The secret is to find the best whitening agent to remove the stains without removing the enamel because as the enamel thins, the teeth become more yellow," Harris explains. "Choosing the wrong product can actually make your teeth darker over time."
Harris says this is an alternative to baking soda. "Bentonite clay is abrasive enough to remove the plaque but not so much so that it will do damage to your enamel," he says. "It can also help raise the pH of your mouth, making it more challenging for bacteria to grow."
This involves swishing a tablespoon of oil (like coconut oil) in your mouth for a couple of seconds each day. "It is a safe and natural way to remove some of these extrinsic stains," Harris says. "The natural oil offers natural benefits that won't increase sensitivity. Plus, it aids in the removal of plaque and improves gum health, which, in turn, makes enamel appear whiter."
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This was a new one to us, but Harris says it's an option! "I know it seems crazy, but it has been shown to work," he adds. "The abrasiveness of the peel can be used to remove surface stains without damaging the teeth."
There are quite a few natural toothpaste options out there that do a good job of cleaning your teeth and keeping them sparkling. When it comes to choosing one, Harris recommends that you "find a natural toothpaste that is low on the abrasive scale that will remove stains without removing the enamel. Find one that has the essential oils and natural ingredients that will promote gum health while also whitening the teeth."
Coconut floss is another natural remedy that you can add to your dental hygiene routine. But again, Kunen reiterates that they mainly remove stains and bacteria which lead to a whitening effect but don't actively whiten teeth. "The more consistent you are with your hygiene routine—whatever products you enjoy using—the cleaner and brighter your teeth will become," she explains.
Be Careful With These Methods
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You've probably read a lot about the whitening effects of activated charcoal, but both Harris and Kunen say you should be cautious with using it, and they don't really recommend it. "These work great to remove stains from the teeth, but they are extremely abrasive and can wear away the enamel, making the teeth sensitive and more yellow as the enamel is what gives teeth their bright and white color," Harris explains. "When toothpaste is too abrasive or too acidic in nature, it can cause the gums to look red and inflamed. Having healthy pink gums is such an important part of having a confident smile."
Baking soda is also abrasive, which can also wear down enamel. Instead of using it on its own, it might be better to opt for a toothpaste that contains baking soda instead.