How NOT to whiten your teeth

whiten your teethBad advice to whiten your teeth

I have a lot of fun on Pinterest and have been collecting different “pins” of home remedies for all sorts of minor afflictions. Some are commonly used, such as aloe for sunburn, but others can be pretty far out there, such as human breast milk to treat pink eye.

One by one, I research these remedies, and I am creating a “board” on my Pinterest page dedicated to the frugal home treatments I think have some benefit.

Mostly these home remedies do not have a great deal—if any—research to support their claims. University and corporate researchers have little interest in such low-cost treatments, but that doesn’t mean some of them don’t work.

My philosophy is that if something seems to work for you, such as aloe for sunburn or ginger for an upset stomach, and the cost or risk is low, then go for it.

But when I run across a suggestion that I think is downright harmful, I have to say something.

Every day I see multiple pins promoting either lemon juice mixed with salt or baking soda, or activated charcoal, as the best/easiest/cheapest/fastest way to whiten your teeth at home.

NO, NO, NO! Do not do this!

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice especially is highly acidic (pH=2). Acids soften tooth enamel. In fact, dentists recommend not brushing your teeth for at least an hour after eating or drinking highly acidic foods (like wine or pineapple). If you brush while your enamel is soft, you will lose some of the enamel. Damaged enamel does not heal itself, and puts you at risk for cavities and sensitive teeth.

Your saliva neutralizes food’s acidity (the human body is amazing!), so by delaying tooth brushing, your teeth will harden again and will be safe to brush.

But these particular lemon juice whitening treatments instruct you to apply the lemon juice to your teeth, wait at least one minute, and then brush. If you make a paste with baking soda or salt, the abrasiveness of those ingredients will only increase the damage to your enamel.

I know this treatment has been endorsed by the great television health evangelist Dr. Oz. But as a dentist pointed out, Dr. Oz is a cardiac surgeon. Would you go to a dentist for cardiac surgery?

Related reading: Be wary of advice from TV’s “entertainment” doctors

Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal, which is available in capsules and is typically used as first aid for poisonings, has two qualities that make it—in theory—a teeth whitener. First, it can bind to some stains and make them appear less noticeable, at least temporarily. Second, it’s abrasive.

Just how abrasive it is has not been tested, and different products will have different degreees of grittiness. Brushing your teeth with it, as many pins and YouTube videos suggest, could damage both your enamel and your gums.

If you make a paste and just leave it on your teeth without brushing, as other pins advise, you run the risk of blotchy whitening or even increased stains. Not attractive!

Better advice to whiten your teeth

Whitening toothpastes use silica, a gentle abrasive, but even they don’t significantly whiten your teeth. Whitening toothpastes just help remove minor surface stains.

If you really want whiter teeth, try ADA-approved whitening (bleaching) strips, or talk to your dentist.

But you will not save money in the long term by using lemon juice or activated charcoal to whiten your teeth. You will only increase the likelihood of needing more expensive dental services in the future.

As for other popular home remedies offered on Pinterest, do your own research first. Determine if there is truly any benefit to the remedy, how much it costs, and what the possible risks are. I list several good websites for supplements, herbs, and evidence-based healthcare on my Resources page.


Frugal Nurse


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