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Dentists caution against DIY tooth whitening. Here's why.

Posted June 10, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

While charcoal has been well-studied as a treatment for certain types of poisoning or overdoses, as a tooth-whitener, is has not been proven or approved by the American Dental Association. (trumzz/Big Stock Photo)

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

There is no question that pearly white teeth are all the rage right now.

While it may be tempting to try different DIY treatments to get that Instagram-worthy smile, it is important to remember that whiter teeth do not necessarily mean healthy teeth.

If you are going to whiten your teeth, always check in with your dentist first and let him or her know what you are considering for treatment. They will be able to tell you fact from fiction and point you away from trends that may do more harm than good.

"There are so many whitening fads out there right now," said Dr. Brad Adams of Goldsboro. "Some may, in fact, lead to whiter teeth, some probably won't do more than waste your money. But it's important to talk to your dentist first to find out what options won't hurt your teeth and gums in the long run."

Dangers of DIY Whitening

At-home, do-it-yourself teeth whitening fads such as activated charcoal, baking soda and peroxide, and coconut oil have the potential to be dangerous if overused or misused. These inexpensive, homemade options are not monitored by dentists, which means you could be damaging anything in your mouth from your gums to your enamel.

"Many over-the-counter teeth whiteners work because of their abrasive qualities. These same qualities can cause major damage to gums and tooth enamel, which can lead to yellowing of the teeth down the road," Adams explained. "If you're going to whiten your teeth, make sure you're doing it safely."

Charcoal

Charcoal is trending across the beauty sphere right now, from face washes and supplements to toothpaste.

While charcoal has been well-studied as a treatment for certain types of poisoning or overdoses, as a tooth-whitener, is has not been proven or approved by the American Dental Association. In fact, it has the dangerous potential to wear down enamel and actually lead to eventual yellowing, not to mention tooth sensitivity and decay.

Baking Soda & Peroxide

Baking soda and peroxide are included in many store-bought whitening products. These commercial products can work as stain removers over time, but mixing up solutions at home with these abrasive materials can damage teeth and gums if used improperly.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil used to whiten teeth is an Ayurvedic process called "oil-pulling." Proponents claim this process extracts toxins from the body and may help improve issues with plaque, gingivitis, tooth-decay and bad breath.

Oil pulling involves swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes at a time before spitting it out. However, this process has not been studied or proven as a whitening solution by the ADA.

Store-Bought Whitening Warnings

Even store-bought whitening products from trusted companies like Colgate and Crest can be ineffective if teeth are not healthy. Furthermore, if there is any tooth decay or you have untreated cavities, bleaching your teeth can be extremely painful.

Teeth can also become discolored for different reasons, from aging to deposits from coffee or smoking. For example, you do not want to spend money on treatment for surface stains if the discoloration is caused by medication-induced graying, as certain types of discoloration do not respond well to treatment.

There are viable options for whitening teeth at home. Some of these solutions are similar to the types of treatment available in dentists' offices but at lower concentrations of bleaching agents and without a "one-size-fits-all" approach that can lead to irritation.

Trusted Sources

Teeth whitening can lead to successful and satisfying results if done properly and under the guidance of a professional dentist.

Dentists will help you determine which whitening solution will work best for your teeth and whitening goals. They will also alert you to what products are safe and have earned the ADA Seal of Approval for different treatments.

If you don't already have a trusted dentist, the ADA offers a list of providers that have agreed to follow the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct. These certified practitioners have access to special resources and up-to-date information straight from the ADA.

Dentists are often found locally through word-of-mouth, and if you have any friends or family members who love their dentists, it is worth scheduling an initial appointment to meet and begin to develop a relationship with a trusted dentist before you need treatment or have any serious issues.

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.