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Do ‘natural’ teeth whitening methods work?

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Chhaya Chauhan

(GDC Number: 83940)

Can you whiten teeth at home naturally

In this post I’ll be commenting on some of the natural or ‘at-home’ teeth whitening methods that you may have heard of. I’ll look at what each method involves, how it may (or may not) work on your teeth, and run through the possible risks.

You can jump straight to the list here, although I advise reading the FAQ first, and watching the video explanation below.

Do natural / at-home teeth whitening methods work and are they safe to try?

If you’re looking for natural ways to whiten your teeth, there may be several reasons involved, such as:

  • You want to know if there are natural alternatives to using chemicals like hydrogen peroxide
  • You want to save money
  • You don’t want to go to the dentist for professional teeth whitening
  • You’re embarrassed to ask your dentist about whitening
  • You’ve heard others say how well it works

These are all perfectly valid reasons to be researching natural teeth whitening or how to whiten teeth at home and I’ll address them all throughout this article.

If this is your first endeavour into teeth whitening, I recommend checking out our teeth whitening hub page, which should answer any questions you have, and in particular see our post on the best teeth whitening methods

Natural teeth whitening FAQ

Before looking at the various natural methods, let’s address some of the common questions people have when they’re interested in natural teeth whitening. I strongly advise reading these (especially this one) before trying any natural teeth whitening method.

Does natural teeth whitening work?

The answer to this depends on what you mean by ‘teeth whitening’. Often the activities of stain removal and tooth bleaching are both grouped under the term teeth whitening, but they are different things. This is explained in more detail in our post on the best whitening products.

Natural teeth whitening methods will at best remove stains, returning your teeth to their natural colour. They will not whiten / bleach your teeth beyond their natural colour — a whitening agent containing hydrogen peroxide is needed for this.

If you have naturally yellow teeth (yes, teeth do yellow naturally with time) once stains have been removed they will still be naturally yellow. And there’s nothing to guarantee natural teeth whitening methods will remove stains at all.

The best way to remove surface stains is to have them cleaned by your dentist or hygienist. However, if you’re really set on trying one of the methods below, I’ll run through them so that you have some information.

Can natural teeth whitening replace professional whitening?

No it can’t (and nor can over-the-counter whitening kits), because they achieve different things.

Natural teeth whitening will at best remove light staining, where as professional whitening bleaches your teeth.

The ingredients used as part of methods for whitening your teeth at home simply don’t have the strength and chemical components to whiten teeth as quickly or as effectively as the professional options.

In the sense that they are both trying to remove light staining, natural teeth whitening is more similar to a scale and polish at the dentist. However, a scale and polish will be more effective — light staining will be removed by the end of your visit, whereas natural methods can take weeks to be effective (and that’s if they work at all).

Do 'natural' teeth whitening methods work? 1

Can natural teeth whitening save you money?

It’s not that expensive to remove light staining from your teeth (which is the most natural methods will achieve) so there’s not a huge amount of money to be saved here.

A whitening toothpaste or an abrasive toothpaste used properly will achieve the same or better results than the methods listed below. I’ve listed some whitening toothpaste options herewhich includes some options as cheap as £2 or £3.

The best way to remove light staining is to have a scale and polish at the dentist. This usually costs about £20, plus you get the bonus of seeing a dental professional. If your teeth are still stained after a scale and polish, you can ask your dentist about professional whitening procedures.

Is natural teeth whitening healthier for my teeth?

No, not necessarily.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s a ‘natural’ product, something like vinegar or charcoal is healthier for your teeth compared to hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide achieves something different to the natural methods listed below; it bleaches your teeth rather than removing stains from them.

Any product misused on your teeth, be it natural or otherwise, can cause irreparable damage, so you should always take the appropriate precautions. Which leads nicely onto the next question…

Is natural teeth whitening safer than professional whitening or at-home whitening kits?

As I’ve said above, natural teeth whitening achieves something different to professional teeth whitening because the latter uses hydrogen peroxide to bleach your teeth.

Bleaching your teeth is safe if carried out properly by a qualified dental professional.

It’s safer to have your teeth bleached properly by a dental professional than it is to do it incorrectly using a natural method, or a home whitening kit.

Some whitening products that can be purchased online or in shops also contain hydrogen peroxide. Legally, these products can only contain 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, which is much less than the 6% strength products that a dentist can dispense.

If you ingest hydrogen peroxide it is going to be more harmful than ingesting something like coconut oil, so in this sense most natural methods could be regarded as slightly safer than whitening kits.

However, whitening is perfectly safe if done correctly.

Is it safe for me to try to whitening teeth naturally if I haven’t had a dental check up recently?

No, I would advise against this.

If you have underlying issues with your teeth, such as cavities, applying anything abrasive or acidic to them can make things worse.

There is nothing wrong with going for a dental check up and asking your dental professional about at-home whitening. A good dentist will not pressure you into having teeth whitening treatment and will be able to tell you whether your teeth are lightly stained (which means at-home stain removal may work) or if they are naturally yellow and therefore require bleaching.

Natural teeth whitening methods — a dentist’s perspective

Below I’ll run through some of the natural teeth whitening methods that have been written about recently and give my comment on each.

I outline the method proposed for each (although this does not mean to say I advocate trying it) so you know what it involves.

If you haven’t yet done so, please read through the FAQ above before considering any of these. Before embarking on any self-proscribed treatment, you should always have a dental check-up first to check for existing problems.

If you do try any of the methods below, you should also use a fluoride toothpaste with a good brushing technique twice a day everyday.

Does oil pulling whiten your teeth?

There are no good quality studies to prove that this method actually works to whiten teeth, however, it has recently grown in popularity.

Advocates of oil pulling suggest swishing a natural oil around your mouth for 15-20 minutes 3 or 4 times a week. Again, there are no clinical studies to prove this works. 

There are many types of oil that could be used but in particular pure coconut oil is mentioned frequently. It has a pleasant taste and the pure form is readily available from most supermarkets.

It is said that oils draw toxins from the body and have other health benefits.

Realistically speaking they probably work by changing the oral environment so that it becomes detrimental for bacteria. This in turn prevents a buildup of plaque and bacteria, leading to a healthy mouth.

Do 'natural' teeth whitening methods work? 2

Does charcoal toothpaste whiten teeth?

Charcoal has become popular recently for its purported tooth whitening (stain removal) benefits. Activated charcoal has been said to be able to draw out toxins from the body, and this logic has been applied to dental health by some people.

However its presence in toothpastes and powders has mainly an abrasive effect. Long term use is not recommended as it can damage the enamel. There is no proven research to back the use of charcoal in tooth whitening.

The charcoal itself is black in colour. When it comes to actually brushing your teeth, it almost creates an optical illusion of your teeth being white after seeing them in contrast to the black toothpaste.

If you’re interested in trying a charcoal-based product, we recommend a couple of options in our best charcoal toothpaste article, which are not too abrasive.

I’ve also created this video that explains the things you need to know about charcoal for teeth whitening:

Does charcoal toothpaste work for teeth whitening?

Does baking soda whiten teeth?

Baking soda is a mildly abrasive agent and found in many toothpastes. This definitely is one that works to remove extrinsic stains, but I do not recommend trying it.

Lemon or other citric acid fruits are very dangerous to your teeth. The high acid erodes the precious enamel on teeth and causes thinning of the teeth. This coupled with the abrasive effects of baking soda can be very damaging for teeth, in-fact resulting in the opposite effect of yellow teeth!

The acid and abrasive agent actually wear away the white thin enamel and end up exposing the underlying yellow dentine.

This can then lead to tooth sensitivity or even cavities. Once the top hard layer (enamel) is abraded away, it exposes the softer yellower dentine layer which is very easy to become cavitated/ sensitive and painful.

Using an erosive acid such as lemon can quicken this damaging process.

baking soda on a toothbrush

Does apple cider vinegar whiten teeth?

I have seen it suggested that rubbing apple cider vinegar on your teeth 2 times a week for 3 weeks will help to whiten them. However, I do not recommend trying this method because you could cause serious damage if doing it incorrectly.

Apple Cider Vinegar has a high pH and works to cause acid erosion to your enamel. Your enamel is very important — it’s the white hard area on the outside of teeth.

Anything acidic in your diet with damage and weaken the enamel and if coupled with an abrasive (or even normal tooth brushing) immediately after, it can cause irreversible damage to the teeth.

Apple cider vinegar as a whitening option

Does turmeric whiten teeth?

Turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. Although it may help gums and soft tissues in the mouth over a period of time there is no research to prove that it has any whitening qualities. The actual turmeric powder may have some abrasive properties over time and it can be very messy to use as it stains things yellow very easily. It may also stain your teeth yellow if used incorrectly.

This is probably one of the safer ones to try as its anti-inflammatory effects will help the gums. However there is no research to say it will actually help whiten teeth and more than likely will turn everything else yellow in the process!

turmeric paste next to toothbrush

Do fruits & vegetables whiten teeth?

No, and if you’re not careful with your consumption they can be damaging.

Fruits and vegetables have been said to help whiten teeth. Although having 5 portions of veg and 2 portions of fruit a day is great for your diet, it isn’t always the same for your teeth.

Having roughage in your diet is good for your health in general. It can be said that eating these will help to physically remove the plaque in the mouth, thus helping to reduce staining to some extent.

There are some fruits that are acidic which will help to erode the enamel layer on the teeth. Strawberries/ pineapples/oranges/apples/grapes and other such fruits contain natural acids which can help soften the enamel. When coupled with an abrasive agent such as baking soda, it could be very damaging to your teeth. Rubbing orange/ lemon skin peels will have a similar acidic/abrasive effect.

Furthermore many fruits such as strawberries and grapes are high in sugar. This can be dangerous in terms of the potential to cause cavities if used as part of some sort of home made whitening regimen. Long term it could result in the opposite effect of yellow teeth.

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Can making changes to your diet keep your teeth white?

Changing your diet can really help to minimise staining and keep your teeth looking white.

If your teeth are stained chances are it’s due to the things going into your mouth, e.g smoking, drinking red wine, eating curries etc. If you cut out the source of the staining then it can help. For example drinking water rather than fizzy drinks or coloured cordial drinks can make a big difference.

Avoiding foods such beetroots and food colourings can also help to prevent stains.

This is one of the only sure fire ways of reducing staining. If you are ingesting a lower amount of staining foods then your teeth will pick up less stains.

Anything that can stain a white shirt can stain your teeth as well. For example, white wine will stain less than red wine. Or white sauce will stain less than bolognese sauce. You get the idea!

Another tip is to drink water after having any highly staining food or drink. This will help wash away any remnants of things like tea, coffee, wine etc., giving them less time in your mouth to cause staining.

Reducing sugar (or carbs that are broken down into sugar) can help to reduce the bacterial load in your mouth. This will help to decrease the plaque levels which helps to prevent that yellow buildup on teeth. More importantly it helps prevent cavities and promotes a healthy mouth.

What about hydrogen peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that you may have readily available at home, but given its chemical content most would not regard this as a ‘natural’ teeth whitening method.

Hydrogen peroxide is the main ingredient used for bleaching teeth, whereas the methods above would only remove stains.

We’ve seen DIY hydrogen peroxide toothpaste / mouth rinse recipes written about online and you may be tempted to try one of these if you’re looking for a teeth whitening method you can conjure up from things you already have at home.

However we strongly advise against this — even if it does work there are other risks involved. See our hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening FAQ for more details.

Your Questions

Have you tried any of the above methods to whiten teeth naturally?

Have you got any questions about natural teeth whitening?

Ask in the comments below and I’ll get back to you shortly.

About Dr Chhaya Chauhan, BDS (Lond)

Chhaya is a general family dentist based in Essex. She graduated from Barts and The London school of Medicine and Dentistry in 2004 and completed her vocational training year in Peterborough. Since graduating she has completed her diploma exams and was awarded the MJDF from the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons in London.

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