DIY Teeth Whitening “Hacks” — Helpful or Harmful?

Surveys show that when asked what people would change about their smile, most responded with “whiter teeth.” That’s fair. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want crisp, influencer-bright, white teeth?!?

But, despite countless internet claims to the contrary, there’s a limit to what you can safely do at home to combat a lackluster smile. MDA dentists weigh in on the good, the bad, and even the ugly side of DIY at-home whitening.

Pss… want to learn more about what’s behind those frustrating tooth stains, and how dentists address them? See our Whitening 101 article.

Helpful (in some cases): Over-the-Counter Whitening & Stain Removing Products with the ADA Seal

There are certain over-the-counter (OTC) products you can use on your own to boost brightness, like whitening strips or stain-combating toothpastes. When scouring the dental care aisle for an at-home tooth whitener, be sure one with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance lands in your shopping cart.

Don’t get too excited tho. Even ADA accepted whitening products aren’t for everyone. They won’t address all types of stains either. That’s why it’s important to discuss your options with your dentist before you add a new OTC product to your dental care routine.

MDA dentists never recommend the use of whitening or bleaching products for patients under 18. Yup, even whitening toothpastes! Abrasives and other harsh ingredients can damage adolescent teeth, especially the developing enamel layer.

WARNING: Avoid any whitening and bleaching kits, gels, pens, pastes, rinses, etc. without the ADA Seal of Acceptance, as these haven’t been rigorously evaluated for safety and effectiveness.

MDA dentists-shared tips for using ADA accepted OTC whitening products

Here’s some valuable advice on the use of at-home whitening products straight from MDA dentists:

  • We said it once, we’ll say it again: before using any at-home treatment from the drugstore, consult your dentist first. It’s important to make sure that any oral care product you use is not only the right option for tackling your specific stains, but also safe for your particular smile.
  • Don’t expect miracles. Know that OTC whitening strips and toothpastes can only address surface stains (aka “extrinsic” stains). They can’t touch deeper, “intrinsic” stains or discolorations.
  • If you use whitening strips at home, brush with a toothpaste
  • designed for sensitive teeth for several days before and afterward. This can help lessen irritation.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use of any ADA accepted product carefully.
  • When it comes to whitening, less is more. Overuse can cause increased sensitivity, enamel damage, and gum sores.

Harmful: When At-Home Whitening Goes Too Far

Some folks are so eager to get a glowing smile that they resort to at-home make-it-yourself remedies in an attempt to lighten their teeth.

Like that one super holistic friend you have. You know the one. She knows everything about health—from aligning your chakras with the moon to the charcoal that doubles as sunscreen—and claims you can whiten your teeth at home … naturally … in less than 10 minutes. Right? Are we close?

There’s no safe way to get instantly whiter teeth “naturally”

We hate to break it to you, but she’s wrong on this one. You cannot safely remove tooth stains or whiten your teeth “naturally.” Not in a day. And never using household products and items from your pantry!

You may wonder, “if it’s all natural, how bad can it be?” Well, take it from MDA dentists—it can be pretty bad!

Despite what people swear by, DIY teeth whitening “hacks” that rely on household products and pantry staples are not safe. Some are so harmful that they can actually ruin your teeth.

How homemade teeth whitening “hacks” can damage teeth

Most homemade teeth whitening “formulas” use a dangerous combination of common kitchen items and at-home chemistry methods to “reveal” whiter teeth.

These concoctions rely on hyper-acidic components (think citrus juices or apple cider vinegar) or foods made of digestive enzymes (tropical favorites like pineapple or mango) and abrasives (we’re looking at you, baking soda).

The danger? Acid + Abrasive = Serious Depletion of Tooth Enamel!

What’s tooth enamel anyway?

Tooth enamel is the outer layer of your teeth. It protects the sensitive dentin tissues underneath. The enamel is the part people “whiten” with dangerous DIY methods, when they should be protecting it instead.

When you brush away enamel with harsh ingredients, you expose the vulnerable dentin under it. At first exposing this layer may make teeth appear “healthy and white.” But it’s only a matter of time before that delicate tissue turns the paint shade of Canary Yellow you saw at the home improvement store the other week.

The worst part—once your tooth enamel is gone, it’s gone … forever! Damaged enamel and enamel erosion lead to serious problems, from cavities to advanced tooth decay. Those coffee stains don’t sound so bad right about now, do they?

“Okay, but you can’t refute hydrogen peroxide or activated charcoal” — Your Friend

Actually, there is zero scientific evidence that supports using home-prepared hydrogen peroxide mixes or activated charcoal to whiten your teeth is effective or safe. Let’s demystify that one a little more…

Hydrogen peroxide is known to cause irritation and tooth sensitivity. Some professional dental bleaching treatments and OTC whiteners contain hydrogen peroxide as an active ingredient. However, these formulas don’t use the same solution that comes from the brown bottle sold at the pharmacy. Nor do they rely on dangerous application methods.

If you heard about a girl whose best friend’s aunt’s neighbor had great results with activated charcoal or hydrogen peroxide, just wait six months. Over time, her damaged enamel will start to show. When her teeth are in worse shape—and far more yellow-looking than they were before—she won’t be singing the same tune.

Other “home remedies” worthy of a warning label

The at-home from the cabinet craze doesn’t stop with acids and abrasives. Many spices and oils—yep, that includes the practice of coconut oil pulling—are in the same boat.

Scientific evidence supporting their lasting whitening results and positive oral health benefits isn’t just lacking, there is absolutely no scientific-basis to these claims. None!

Fine, so how can I have whiter teeth?

Ah, there’s one of our favorite questions!

Simple answer: whiter teeth start with healthier teeth; healthier teeth come from better oral care habits.

Follow our MDA dentists-approved tips below to keep your teeth, mouth, and gums healthy. Remember, healthier teeth can appear brighter and whiter.

5 steps to a healthier, whiter-looking smile

  1. Help prevent stains before they start. Brush twice a day with a fluoride containing toothpaste for at least two minutes. Be sure to use one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance!
  2. Floss at least once a day. If it’s hard for you to floss, try using a Waterpik or interdental cleaner. They do a great job!
  3. Avoid drinks known to stain teeth and erode tooth enamel. That means cutting back on the coffee, tea, and red wine. Don’t forget those acidic sodas, juices, and sugar-filled sports drinks either. The sugar and acids in these beverages can cause major enamel damage.
  4. Quit smoking and stop using chewing tobacco. Giving these up can be hard. But some sacrifices are worth the results. Need help to quit? Talk to your MDA dentist or primary care physician; both want to help you kick the habit for good!
  5. Visit your MDA dentist regularly. Routine dental visits, cleanings, and check ups make all the difference in the world of dental health. And in bright smiles.

Treat your smile well & it’ll shine!

To sum it up, teeth prefer scientifically proven methods of whitening over dangerous, from the kitchen remedies. Everyone’s smile is different. Even super healthy teeth may never be pearly white insta-bright.

But, say you take excellent care of your teeth and you’re still looking for a little extra brightness, talk to your MDA dentist. They can help you decide if in-office bleaching, or dentist prescribed at-home whitening/ bleaching treatments, may be right for you.

Meanwhile, leave the hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet, don’t skimp on your regular dental cleanings, and take your friend’s advice with a grain of salt— just don’t brush with it.