How to whiten teeth naturally – and what not to use

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  • We all hope to look our best, and one way to do this is to know how to whiten teeth naturally so we can show off a bright white smile.

    A recent Oral Health Foundation survey found that ‘nearly one-in-three (32%) of Brits want whiter teeth while two-in-three (66%) have actively considered having treatment’.

    There are a number of reasons why our teeth may yellow or get stained. Some of these we can prevent, such as our diet, others we can’t – like getting older.

    Dr Uchenna Okoye, cosmetic dentist at The London Smiling Dental Group, told us.‘Yellowing teeth can be due to ageing but can also be due to the erosion of enamel, caused by acids, teeth grinding and brushing your teeth with too much force.’

    Your teeth can also be easily stained by the lifestyle choices you make. These include using tobacco,  and the food and drink you consume. ‘Simply put, anything that stains a white shirt will stain your teeth,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘The rule of thumb for how white should your teeth be is if your teeth are the same colour as the whites of your eyes you most probably don’t need teeth whitening.”

    In truth, says Dr Amy Lei-Plant, a dentist at Together Dental in Colchester, ‘the safest way to whiten your teeth is under the supervision of a dentist.’ Otherwise you risk developing sensitive teeth and other oral problems.

    Saying that you can still get brighter, cleaner teeth and remove – and prevent – stains by knowing how to whiten teeth naturally. Here are some methods to try, and some to limit or avoid.

    How to whiten teeth naturally

    1. Watching what you eat

    This is the first port of call if you want to know how to whiten teeth naturally. Prevention is nearly always better than cure.

    ‘Certain food and drinks will stain teeth, including tea, coffee, red wine, and strong coloured foods such as curries,’ says Dr Lei-Plant. If you’re a fan of these you’ll need to whiten your teeth more regularly, or switch to other foods and drinks.

    ‘If you can bear it, swap your coffee for matcha. It’s known to have protective properties that support gum health,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘Swapping red wine for gin and tonic (no lemon, too acidic) and sipping via a straw reduces stains.’

    Surprisingly, adds Dr Okoye, perceived healthy foods also stain. ‘Many patients who have staining on their teeth are shocked as they say they only drink herbal teas,’ she says.

    2. Stopping smoking

    Quitting cigarettes is one of the best ways to prevent yellow, stained teeth. ‘Smoking is the worst culprit,’ says Dr Okoye.

    ‘Avoid tobacco products such as smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco,’ says Dr Lei-Plant. ‘There’s strong scientific evidence that proves that they increase the risk of gum disease, mouth cancer and multiple other health problems. So it’s very important to avoid these products – not just from a teeth whitening perspective.’

    Struggling to give up? The NHS Quit Smoking app can help.

    Family-practising-good-oral-hygeine

    Daily oral care will go a long way to preventing stains and yellowing. (Credit: Getty)

    3. Practising good oral hygiene

    If you want to know how to whiten teeth naturally, always brush teeth thoroughly and twice a day (here’s how to brush your teeth the right way).

    There is a good reason for this, says a spokesperson for ATOMY, mainly that our teeth lose their natural lustre due to a build-up of plaque, so by regularly brushing and flossing we can help our teeth stay naturally white by reducing bacteria in our mouth and plaque build-up.

    ‘Everyday maintenance involves brushing teeth twice a day, flossing teeth and scraping your tongue,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘And don’t rinse and spit, so the paste stays on the teeth working,’ she advises.

    One option is to try the ATOMY Toothbrush (£8 for a pack of 8, ATOMY). These have gold powder on the toothbrush bristles that can act as an antibacterial membrane powder. This, when combined with effective brushing action twice daily, can keep the surface of the teeth clean, helping to prevent plaque from forming.

    London dentist Dr Rhona Eskander, who co-founded the Pärla toothpaste tabs brand, recommends that home maintenance should include an electric tooth brush such as using Philips Sonicare, and the daily use floss or interdental aids.

    ‘I also recommend the Waterpik Water Flosser (£67.99, Amazon) to help lift stains,’ she says.

    4. Baking soda

    Baking soda is known as a cheap and easy way to naturally whiten your teeth at home. However, it’s very important you don’t use any old baking soda as some brands are more abrasive than others and could damage your teeth. In light of this, you’d be better off using a recommended toothpaste that contains this ingredient.

    ‘The natural alkalinity of baking soda counterbalances the acidic food and drink we eat to protect from tooth decay and gum disease,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘Baking soda toothpastes contain small particles which are less abrasive and more able to clean and remove plaque more effectively in hard-to-reach places, as well as removing stains in a gentler way.’

    She adds: ‘Baking soda also helps to promote the re-mineralisation of tooth enamel and eliminates unpleasant odours. With 100% recyclable packaging and clinically proven to whiten teeth in three days, try Arm & Hammer 100% Natural Whitening Protection (£4.50 for 75ml, Boots). It tastes fresh too and leaves a clean and polished feel.’

    You may have heard a suggestion for making a ‘toothpaste’ out of lemon juice and baking soda. Lemon juice is acidic enough to remove tough stains when combined with baking soda, but this technique isn’t recommended by dentists.

    Coconut-oil and half a coconut

    Can coconut oil whiten our teeth? (Credit: Getty)

    5. Oil pulling

    This old Eastern practice has become increasingly fashionable in the West. The method involves swishing a tablespoon of coconut or other vegetable oil around your mouth. You then pull it back and fourth through your teeth – a bit like what you did with jelly when you were a kid. Do this for at least 20 minutes. Then spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water before brushing and flossing.

    While this certainly a natural – and cheap – form of teeth whitening, it’s debatable as to whether the practice works.

    ‘Sadly, there is no real science or research into this,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘It’s an ancient Ayurvedic practice and it’s meant to remove stains. Some say the oil draws the bacteria out but I’m skeptical this works.’

    Dr Eskander agrees: ‘The oil can act as a lubricant and help dislodge stains. But it cannot physically whiten the teeth as the oil does not penetrate the surface,’ she says.

    6. Activated charcoal

    Said to pull toxins from the mouth and remove stains, activated charcoal powder is a natural substance. You’ll find it as an ingredient in toothpaste or it is found in health food shops and pharmacies as a powder. With charcoal, it’s important to choose the right product.

    ‘You must look at the RDA value, which indicates abrasivity,’ advises Dr Eskander. ‘The more abrasive a product the more potential there is to strip away your enamel and expose the under lying dentine, which is yellow in colour,’ she explains. ‘Dentine is more sensitive and softer than enamel so if exposed can cause health problems.’

    Instead, both Dr Eskander and Dr Okoye recommend a toothpaste that contains ‘the next big thing in dentistry’ – hydroxyapatite. ‘This mineral is a building block of natural enamel. It works by blocking all the open pores and smoothing the surface of the tooth,’ says Dr Eskander.

    Find it in PARLA PRO toothpaste tabs (£10.95 or £8 a month on subscription, PARLA), which – says Dr Eskander – contains high gloss teeth whitening, sensitivity-reducing and immunity-boosting powers.

    We also love Dr Okuye’s gentle, non-abrasive whitening toothpaste range MySmile (£17.99 for 75ml, London Smiling) which also contains ‘hydroxypatite’ to remineralise, protect and nourish the enamel of the teeth, a bit like serum. 

    A-plate-of-strawberries-pineapple-and-mango

    Some fruits contain gentle acids to remove stains but use with caution. (Credit: Getty)

    7. Strawberries

    Rubbing your teeth with soft fruit may seem a little odd. But nature is a wonderful thing and certain foods can keep us healthy in surprising ways.

    ‘Certain compounds in some foods actually have a teething-cleaning effect,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘Malic acid is one of them. It’s found in strawberries and is a gentle natural acid that can help dissolve surface stains.’

    Dr Lei-Plant agrees. ‘Some fruits such as strawberries contain acids which are metabolised into oxidising agents, which may help prevent or improve staining.’

    A five minute rub, followed by brush, rinse and floss should do it. However, this isn’t a method you should do regularly. ‘These fruits and fruit juices contain a high level of sugar and acid that cause tooth decay and enamel erosion. These will do more damage than good for oral health,’ warns Dr Lei-Plant.

    8. Papaya

    Like strawberries, papaya ‘have very gentle natural acids that can help dissolve surface stains,’ says Okoye. ‘Gentle is the key word here.’

    Follow the same principle as if you were using strawberries. Papaya carries the same risks in terms of sugar and acid content, though, so do this very occasionally.

    9. Pineapple

    If you like fruit, Dr Okoye also suggests adding pineapple to your fruit bowl. ‘Pineapple contains a plaque fighting enzyme called bromelain that breaks up plaque and acts as a natural stain remover.’ Bromelain is a powerful enzyme that’s known to provide a variety of other benefits. It’s anti-inflammatory, improves digestion and can relieve sinusitis.

    A 2020 study found that “bromelain bleaching gels resulted in a similar colour change as the carbamide peroxide gel”. While it’s not recommended that you make a habit of rubbing your teeth with fruit “a diet rich in some types of fruits or vegetables, which contains large amounts of organic acids, seems to preserve or improve the colour of the teeth”.

    As with other fruits, use sparingly as a teeth whitener. Better still, add it to your diet in whole fruit form, rather than rubbing it on your teeth or drinking as a juice.

    Apple-cider-vinegar-poured-onto-a-spoon-

    Apple cider vinegar is an acid so isn’t the best option for teeth whitening. (Credit: Getty)

    10. Apple cider vinegar

    Touted as a natural teeth whitener by some, toothpaste brand Colgate suggests making a paste that’s “two parts apple cider vinegar to one part baking soda… to remove stains and whiten your teeth.”

    Our experts are less certain. Dr Lei-Plant points out that apple cider vinegar contains ‘acid which causes tooth decay and enamel erosion.’

    Dr Okoye adds: ‘Although this is vinegar, it’s an alkaline in the body if you drink it. However, this is better for your insides rather than your teeth.’

    11. Hydrogen peroxide

    Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound with antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. While not technically natural, when diluted it has been used to treat certain conditions, such as a mouth rinse to ease ulcers or gingivitis.

    ‘An oxidising agent which improves teeth discolouration, hydrogen peroxide is used by dental professionals worldwide to provide professional whitening. The whitening gel releases a gas, which then in turn bleaches the teeth. Used properly it is a safe and effective way to whiten teeth,’ says Dr Lei-Plant. ‘However, it has side effects such as increased teeth sensitivity and it needs to be used properly to ensure it doesn’t cause damage to the teeth and gums,’ she adds.

    And the main reasons why you should leave it to the professionals? ‘The most effective ingredient to whiten teeth (peroxide in the form of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide) are best at 6% hydrogen or 16% carbamide. This percentage is not available over the counter,’ says Dr Eskander.

    ‘They [the dentist] can make bespoke trays which are much better fitting that any standard non custom-made trays bought over the counter,’ she says. ‘A well fitting tray ensures that the gel penetrates your teeth properly. Poor fitting trays can also cause over spilling into the gums causing irritation and even burns.’