Beauty 

6 Natural Ways to Whiten Teeth at Home

October 23, 2020 6 min read

Woman smiling with white teeth in front of plants

At a glance

Your smile is one of the first things others notice about you, and white, healthy-looking teeth are likely to make a positive impression in both personal and professional circles. Moreover, having a beautiful smile can affect your own sense of self.

In fact, a study by Cigna reveals that just 37% of people who describe their oral health as fair or poor report having excellent self-confidence. And 21% of people said the state of their smile had impacted their performance in job interviews for the worse. 

While white teeth aren’t necessarily healthier than yellowing ones, it’s clear that the state of your smile can affect your confidence and quality of life. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your oral health, brighten your smile, and boost your self-esteem. Keep reading to learn more about what causes teeth to turn yellow, along with some natural ways to whiten your teeth.

What causes teeth to turn yellow?

Tooth yellowing falls into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. With extrinsic discoloration, only the outer part of the tooth is affected. With intrinsic yellowing, the enamel covering the teeth wears out, revealing the yellow dentin below. Both types of discoloration can negatively impact the appearance of your smile. Below are some of the many reasons your teeth may be turning yellow.

Drinks

The foods and beverages you consume could be damaging your teeth, causing both intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration(1). Dark-colored drinks such as tea, coffee, cola and red wine all have the potential to stain the outer layer of your teeth. Many sodas are also high in sugar, encouraging plaque to form. Plaque damages the enamel, thereby revealing more of the dentin below. 

Smoking

It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes has a negative effect on health. However, you might not realize that this habit can also damage your teeth(2). Over time, tobacco stains teeth, turning them yellow or even brown. Moreover, smoking can lead to gum disease and tooth loss by reducing your body’s ability to fight off infections (3). The more cigarettes people smoke, and the longer they smoke for, the greater their odds of developing gum disease during their lifetime.

Medication

There’s a chance that the medicine you’re taking could be putting you at a greater risk of tooth discoloration. Various over-the-counter and prescription drugs can darken teeth in children and adults. These include antibiotics, doxycycline, tetracycline and antihistamines(4). Additionally, certain medications used to treat high blood pressure and psychosis can cause adult teeth to yellow. If you’re suffering from tooth discoloration, you might want to talk to your doctor to see if your drug regimen could be to blame. 

Genetics

Your family history could be a cause of your tooth discoloration. In fact, research shows that some people’s teeth simply stain more easily than others due to genetics.

Aging

Just because your teeth grow in white doesn’t mean they’ll stay that color. Over the years, tooth enamel starts to thin, allowing more dentin to show through. In this sense, tooth discoloration can be viewed as a natural part of the aging process. 

Oral Hygiene

Poor dental care can cause teeth to turn yellow. Regular brushing and flossing are crucial for removing plaque and preventing discoloration. 

Toothbrush with toothpaste on it sitting on the bathroom counter

What are some natural ways to whiten your teeth? 

Pearly white teeth might be the goal, but that doesn’t always come naturally. Factors like aging and genetics tend to be outside of your control. Still, there are steps you can take to improve your oral health and whiten your teeth that don’t involve harsh treatments.

While many people with stained smiles opt to use teeth-whitening products, research reveals that these can actually damage teeth. Overusing whitening strips and gels can cause tooth enamel to erode and even damage the dentin (5). Additionally, loss of enamel can lead to greater tooth sensitivity, making it uncomfortable to consume foods that are hot, cold or acidic. For this reason, many people with discolored smiles seek out natural ways to whiten teeth. 

Brush After Eating

While not always convenient, brushing your teeth after meals is one of the best ways to whiten teeth while protecting your oral health. Consider bringing a toothbrush to work and brushing after coffee breaks and lunch. Regular dental visits are also helpful in reducing tooth stains caused by plaque buildup.

Use a Straw

No one’s saying you have to give up your favorite caffeinated beverages. However, if you’re going to consume coffee, black tea, or soda, you might want to think about drinking it through a straw to minimize tooth contact. Straws are also a smart choice for fruit juices, sports drinks and other sugar-heavy beverages. 

Consider Coconut Oil

An Ayurvedic dental technique, oil pulling has been around for decades. Research shows that this folk remedy is an effective natural way to whiten teeth. According to a recent study, edible oil pulling is a safe way to boost oral health and whiten teeth without side effects(6)

To practice this technique, swish a spoonful of coconut oil between your teeth. You can also put coconut oil on your toothbrush or apply it with a clean washcloth. As a bonus, research shows that coconut oil can help protect your gums, thanks to its antimicrobial properties. 

Try Charcoal

Research reveals that activated charcoal can help remove stains from teeth. To try this natural whitening method, dip a wet toothbrush in powdered charcoal before brushing your teeth as normal. After brushing, be sure to rinse teeth with water until your saliva runs clear. 

It’s worth noting that using activated charcoal to whiten teeth has its drawbacks. For one, charcoal is abrasive, and using too much can damage tooth enamel over the long term(7). Additionally, charcoal can settle in the cracks of older teeth and negatively affect crowns and bridges. Talk to your dentist before trying this method.

Up Your Fiber Intake

High-fiber foods aren’t just good for your digestion. They also help lower acidity levels in the mouth (8). By consuming more fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans and vegetables, you can encourage the production of saliva, which helps keep teeth clean. The result is less staining.

Kale, avocadoes, and other veggies laid out on the kitchen counter

Add Some Citrus to Your Diet

Sugar-rich orange juice might have a negative effect on your tooth color. However, studies show that orange peel is a different story when rubbed on your teeth(9). In fact, various citrus peels have been proven to help whiten teeth, with tangerine peels producing the most significant change. Still, it’s best to use this tooth whitening option sparingly, as the acid in citrus peels can gradually affect your enamel. 

Pros and cons of natural versus name-brand toothpaste

In their quest for healthier, whiter teeth, many consumers are seeking out natural toothpastes over those promoted by the American Dental Association. However, using a “natural” toothpaste comes with both pros and cons. Moreover, companies disagree on what exactly constitutes a natural paste. 

In general, a natural toothpaste refers to one made with more organic ingredients, such as charcoal(10). Additionally, natural toothpastes are typically free from artificial colors, sweeteners and foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)(11). Avoiding SLS and other substances may help prevent canker sores and other forms of oral irritation. 

Natural toothpastes also tend to be free from fluoride. A mineral found in water and soil, fluoride is known to protect tooth enamel while fighting against cavities. In fact, one study showed that having fluoride in the public water system reduced tooth decay in children and adults by 25 percent(12). For this reason, individuals who opt to use fluoride-free toothpaste may be increasing their risk of long-term tooth damage and discoloration.

In summary

Even people who aren’t especially vain may worry that their smile is giving off the wrong impression. If your teeth are decaying, crooked or discolored, you might be wondering whether potential employers or dating partners are judging you. Moreover, your discolored teeth could be affecting your confidence and negatively impacting your performance in the workplace.

The good news is that there are natural ways to whiten teeth while protecting your overall oral health. Along with practicing good dental hygiene, brushing and flossing regularly, and seeing a dentist every six months, try to stay away from foods known to stain teeth. Avoid overindulging in coffee, tea and red wine or opt to drink these beverages through a straw. Brushing teeth after meals and snacks can also help protect against tooth decay and staining.

If you’re still worried about tooth discoloration, you might want to consider some of the many ways to whiten teeth. For those looking to avoid professional products like tooth bleaching strips and gels, a number of natural tooth whitening options exist. Both coconut oil and activated charcoal have been shown to reduce tooth discoloration and help restore vibrant smiles. Additionally, rubbing teeth with citrus peels can be effective in removing stains. Talk to your dentist about best practices for whitening your teeth naturally and safely. 

April Maguire - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice