Everyone wants whiter teeth, but not everyone wants to spend money on them. After noticing a spike in online advice about how to whiten your teeth with common home remedies, I decided to try them out. From lemon juice to activated charcoal, here’s what happened—and what a real dentist thinks you should and shouldn’t do.
Home Whitener 1: Baking Soda and Fresh Lemon Juice
Internet says: Make a paste of these two ingredients and let it sit on the surface of your teeth for one minute. The acid in the lemon helps erase surface stains.
Dentist says: “I would never recommend lemon juice on anyone’s teeth,” says Brian Kantor of the NYC dental practice Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor. “It’s very acidic and if not cleaned off properly it can pool on the tooth and erode the enamel, and that’s the last thing you want.”
I say: Thanks, Dr. Kantor. I’ll skip this one.
Home Whitener 2: Coconut Oil
Internet says: Swishing a natural oil around your mouth for 15 minutes—called “oil pulling”—breaks down plaque that can make teeth appear yellow, and removes bacteria, too. Coconut oil is the most commonly recommended.
Dentist says: “It’s been around for a long time. Celebrities are doing it. It’s a fad.” Still, Kantor admits it has benefits. “It’s detoxifying. You’re removing plaque and bacteria, which will make teeth appear whiter.”
I say: No one tells you that coconut oil is a solid. Ugh. I got mine from Trader Joe’s, bit off a lump, and waited for it to dissolve in my mouth. Then I ended up chewing it. And almost swallowing—it tastes like coconut! Swishing warm oil in my mouth for 15 minutes felt like an eternity. After several “pullings” over the course of a week, my teeth looked shinier, but not noticeably whiter.
Home Whitener 3: Hydrogen Peroxide
Internet says: Swish food grade hydrogen peroxide, which is a solution diluted to around 3%, in your mouth for 60 seconds.
Dentist says: “To bleach teeth you need a hydrogen peroxide material that stays on the teeth for a certain amount of time,” says Kantor. “Just swishing with hydrogen peroxide isn’t going to do that.”
I say: It tasted faintly like the inside of a Crest White Strip. It was over quickly. After several tries, no obvious effect.
Home Whitener 4: Activated Charcoal
Internet says: Brush activated charcoal powder onto stained teeth with a wet toothbrush two to three times a week.
Dentist says: “This is another hot thing right now,” says Kantor. “Do I tell patients to brush with activated charcoal? No, I don’t. It’s a highly absorbent substance that’s a nice surface-stain remover, but given the other choices, do you want to put charcoal in your mouth?”
I say: The powder was inexpensive and tasteless, but a single puff of breath sent it flying everywhere, coating every surface in my bathroom as if tiny volcano had exploded nearby. While brushing, my blackened teeth made me look like an extra from “The Walking Dead.” Rinsing out was an inky, splattery, comical mess.
Home Whitener 5: Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide
Internet says: Make these two into a paste and gently brush your teeth with it, using a circular motion on the surfaces.
Dentist says: “Baking soda is an abrasive material that will remove surface stains,” says Kantor, “which will make teeth appear whiter. Hydrogen Peroxide kills bacteria, and doesn’t add acid. If you’re a heavy coffee and red wine drinker, you’re going to see results pretty instantly.”
I say: The taste wasn’t great, but I could feel the slight roughness of the baking soda scrubbing my tooth surfaces. It dislodged gunk I didn’t know was there. (Charming, I know.) After about 30 seconds, I rinsed, and my front teeth looked flawlessly clean, slightly whiter, and more evenly white than before. Plus, they were shiny but not slick.
And the winner is? Whitener Five! By not overthinking it, and using something that isn’t gross, you’ll be more likely to keep it up and see results. Plus, it got a dentist’s professional approval.
I’ll toast to that. With a glass of red.