Teeth Whitening Fads Examined

Smiling releases endorphins1 to our brain which boosts mood and happiness. Studies have shown that when we smile, others see us as being younger than we are2. So, having white teeth not only improves self-confidence but boosts other people’s perception of us as well. Does smiling make us live longer? We don’t know, but it certainly makes the journey more pleasurable.

Our patients often tell us that the appearance or colour of their teeth prevents them from smiling. And even the smallest of cosmetic change can mean the world of difference.

Teeth whitening has become one of the most commonly asked for dental procedures3. We now see hundreds of products on the market with claims to whiten and brighten your smile. But how do we separate the science from the myth? The safe from the unsafe? The cost-effective from the costly?

We did some research and took a closer look at some of the more popular alternative methods of tooth whitening.

Oil Pulling
A teaspoon of coconut oil is swished around the mouth for 20 minutes on an empty stomach. It is ‘pulled’ and forced between the teeth. Research into oil pulling is not extensive4,5,6 but there’s no proof that it helps to whiten teeth. Oil pulling has its roots in ancient India as an Ayurvedic practice, using natural ingredients to heal the body.

Pros: May reduce gum inflammation and bacteria levels
Cons: Takes a long time and is technique sensitive – better results can be achieved with a toothbrush and toothpaste
Tooth whitening: No evidence to show it works or reduces staining

Activated Charcoal
Charcoal toothpastes are a recent trend. While they may lift superficial surface stains, they won’t make a difference to deep stains or for teeth that are naturally yellowed. One study by Creighton University School of Dentistry in the US found that extended use of charcoal toothpaste resulted in a significant loss of enamel. As the toothpaste made its way into the dentin of the teeth used in the experiment, they adopted a grey shade – the opposite of the desired effect.

Pros: May help to remove some surface stain and delay the recurrence of stains
Cons: Doesn’t contain fluoride and may cause staining or greying around existing fillings or crevices7
Tooth whitening: there is no evidence to show it whitens the teeth from the inside

Spices, fruit and… bicarb soda.
Brushing your teeth with turmeric, whitening your teeth with strawberries, brightening your teeth with bicarb soda… do a quick Google search and a whole world of natural remedies said to provide miracle brightening and whitening will open up to you. While turmeric tooth brushing probably won’t do you any harm – after all, it’s a well-known antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory spice, it certainly won’t give you a whiter smile. The same goes for crushed strawberries and bicarb soda. A 2015 study8 from the University of Iowa looked at the effect of using a mix of strawberry and bicarb on teeth, three times a day over 10 days. The study found that while the mixture did remove surface plaque and debris, giving the illusion of a whiter smile, it didn’t actually bleach or whiten anything at all.

Pros: May reduce gum inflammation and bacteria levels
Cons: Can be costly. Strawberries are not what you would call cheap!
Tooth whitening: No evidence to show that it whitens teeth

Shopping Centre Pop-ups, tooth whitening strips and kits
The teeth whitening industry is largely unregulated, and a variety of options including whitening strips and mail order trays have popped up in recent years. An investigation by Choice magazine found that potential hazards associated with going to an unqualified practitioner include “lack of proper infection control, careless application or ill-fitting bleaching trays, causing irritation to gums and lips”. While seeing your dentist for a whitening procedure may cost a little more, the difference is noticeable. Firstly, dentists are able to use up to 38% hydrogen peroxide (compared to 6% – the maximum allowance for non-registered dentists in a clinical setting). Your dentist is also able to assess the quality of your teeth, potential problems or disease that could be exacerbated by whitening, and provide you with custom-fitted trays which ensure the bleach stays on your teeth. It may not be the cheap, quick fix you were hoping for but in the long run, it’s much better for you, and way more effective.

Pros: Cheap
Cons: Unknown ingredients, risk of increased sensitivity or chemical burns to the gums
Tooth whitening: Might produce some whitening effect, however safety remains a concern

We offer a wide range of teeth whitening services to our patients. Book an appointment to discuss teeth whitening with your dentist today!

  1. https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/famelab-whats-science-behind-smile
  2. Hass NC, Weston TD, Lim S-L (2016) Be Happy Not Sad for Your Youth: The Effect of Emotional Expression on Age Perception. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0152093.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152093
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1532338214000499
  4. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review J Tradit Complement Med. 2017 Jan; 7(1): 106–109. PMCID: PMC5198813 Published online 2016 Jun 6. doi: 1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004
  5. Essential oil mouthwash (EOMW) may be equivalent to chlorhexidine (CHX) for long-term control of gingival inflammation but CHX appears to perform better than EOMW in plaque control.J Evid Based Dent Pract.2012 Sep;12(3 Suppl):69-72. doi: 10.1016/S1532-3382(12)70017-9
  6. Effect of oil pulling in promoting oro dental hygiene: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complement Ther Med.2016 Jun;26:47-54. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.02.011. Epub 2016 Feb 20. Gbinigie O1 Onakpoya I2Spencer E3 McCall MacBain M4 Heneghan C5.
  7. Charcoal toothpastes: what we know so far. Linda Greenwall, Pharmaceutical Journal
  8. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cosmetic-dentistry/teeth-whitening/strawberry-teeth-whitening-and-other-weird-whitening-methods-0117

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