Last updated on November 28th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
A radiant smile can be a source of confidence and a reflection of vitality.
That’s why many people are willing to invest in pricey teeth whitening systems that may not always work.
But what if there’s a cheaper option?
I’m talking about cheap and non-toxic alternatives you can use at the comfort of your home.
Some are available over the counter. Others are only available inside a dental clinic.
Here we will take a look at some of the popular, affordable and natural alternatives to keeping your teeth looking healthy and bright.
Many agree that strawberries are effective natural whiteners.
Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones likes to eat strawberries and she credits this to her pearly-whites.
But can these yummy berries really whiten your teeth?
According to Dr. Irwin Smigel, president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics, the malic acid in strawberries contain astringent properties that buff away surface stains and discoloration, such as from wine, coffee and sodas.
Adina Carrel, DMD, agrees that while it is not a replacement for a proper dental bleaching treatment, strawberries are an easy way to brighten your smile.
Can erode enamel
Dr. Carrel warns though that if used too frequently, the citric acid in the fruit could potentially damage the teeth enamel.
Charles Choi at LiveScience poses the same concern about citric acid.
In his article on the study of So Ran Kwon, a tooth whitening researcher at University of Iowa, it revealed that strawberries contain a high concentration of citric acid that can erode teeth.
Can reduce surface hardness by up to 10%
Kwon experimented with strawberries and baking soda, gently brushing the mixture onto recently extracted molars for 5 minutes and repeating this thrice daily for 10 days. Results showed that the citric acid reduced the teeth surface hardness by up to 10 percent.
Kwon’s experiment also showed that while the mixture did remove superficial debris and plaque accumulation, making the teeth look whiter, it did not really break down the stain molecules from the inside.
This was based on two well-known color-measurement tests and the use of a spectrophotometer.
One study in Bristol, UK, however, showed that an interplay of the right levels of pH, acid concentration, and the presence of calcium can reduce erosion.
This will be very difficult to achieve, though, in do-it-yourself formulas.
Considering all these, it’s clear still that strawberries can brighten the teeth, at least by removing surface stains.
You’ll just have to be careful on how often you use it…and how ripe your strawberries are.
Amanda Cable for The Daily Mail says that the riper the strawberry is, the higher the concentration of malic acid than the harmful citric acid. So choose really ripe strawberries.
Some ways of incorporating strawberries into your routine:
Eat the strawberries
Especially after meals. Chew them really well so they rub against your chompers naturally. You can also mash them and brush onto your teeth once or twice a week.
Make a paste from strawberries and baking soda
Dr. Irwin Smigel advises to mash one strawberry with half a teaspoon of baking soda. Apply it with a toothbrush and rinse out with water. Claire of Everyday Roots recommends adding a pinch of salt to the mixture and letting it sit for 5 minutes on your teeth before rinsing.
2. Baking Soda
Baking soda is effective as a DIY remedy for whitening teeth that toothpaste manufacturers add it to their products.
If you check your toothpaste label, you will find baking soda in the ingredients listed as sodium bicarbonate.
Baking soda in toothpaste
Arm and Hammer is of these manufacturers that has added baking soda to their toothpaste products.
Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can remove surface stains from your teeth. According to the Journal of Clinical Dentistry (June 2008), brushing with baking soda products is significantly more effective in removing plaque than without.
Colgate warns, however, that if you have braces containing orthodontic glue or if you use a permanent retainer, avoid using baking soda as it will soften the glue.
Additionally, toothpaste manufacturers point out that baking soda doesn’t contain fluoride, which helps remineralize the teeth and prevent cavities.
Here are some DIY teeth whitening solutions using baking soda:
Baking soda with water
Amanda Cable for The Daily Mail recommends mixing equal parts baking soda and water to form a paste, and brushing the teeth with it for one to two minutes. Use this occasionally, as the abrasion might be damaging to the enamel of your teeth.
Baking soda with lemon juice
In this mixture, Claire of Everyday Roots uses lemon juice instead of water in the same manner. TV personality Dr. Oz, on the other hand, recommends leaving the mixture on your teeth for a minute (but no more than that) before brushing.
Lemon is a natural cleaner but that’s because it’s highly acidic and can erode the enamel, bringing more danger than good to your smile.
Baking soda with apple cider vinegar
As with the previous two, you just mix equal parts baking soda and apple cider vinegar to form a paste.
Yet just like with lemon, many are now against this method because of studies showing that the acidity is too damaging to the teeth.
3. Food-Grade Hydrogen Peroxide
Using food-grade hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) to whiten the teeth has been quite popular for some time. It’s cheap and convenient, but be very careful not to swallow it.
Hydrogen peroxide or H2O2, at 3 percent, is a weak liquid acid that has oxidizing properties, making it an effective bleaching agent.
It’s even an ingredient in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and some drugstore whitening systems.
According to Dr. Marissa Miller of Discovery Dental, hydrogen peroxide also helps relieve toothache, fight gingivitis, and even sterilize your toothbrush.
You can use this as a disinfectant.
So how do you use it?
Food-grade hydrogen peroxide as mouthwash
Just swish it around in your mouth like a regular mouthwash after brushing your teeth and/or flossing.
Make sure to cover your gum lines, and rinse your mouth with water after spitting it out to get rid of any residue.
You may use it at 3 percent strength or dilute it with an equal amount of water. Diluting it will lessen the chances of possible irritation, especially if you intend to use it regularly. If it foams, don’t worry. That just means it’s actively killing germs in your mouth.
Food-grade hydrogen peroxide with baking soda
Dr. Miller recommends mixing four parts baking soda to one part peroxide to make a paste. It will have a grainier texture than your usual toothpaste, but it will clean your teeth just as well.
4. Oil Pulling
Hollywood stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley (of the movie Divergent) swear by “oil pulling” for teeth whitening. What’s this about?
Oil pulling involves swishing oil around the month for 20 minutes. Many claim that this ancient Ayurvedic technique works.
It is said that the practice works by “pulling out” toxins and is most effective when done in the morning, before eating or drinking anything.
Helps fight gingivitis, plaque and microorganisms
Colleen Oakley at WebMD says recent studies show that it helps against gingivitis, plaque, and microorganisms that cause bad breath.
She features Jessica Emery, DMD, who explains that when the cells of microorganisms come into contact with oil, they naturally adhere to each other because they both have fatty membranes.
This in effect “pulls out” the harmful microorganisms from the mouth when you spit out the oil. There was no mention of a whitening effect in Oakley’s article, but maybe it becomes the upshot of oil-pulling’s anti-microbial activity.
Swish oil around in your mouth
You can use good quality vegetable-based oil such as coconut, olive or sesame.
Others use sunflower oil or other herbalized oils.
But many, like Dr. Emery, recommend using coconut oil because it has strong antibacterial properties, making it more effective.
Wellness Mama prefers it too. She swishes 1-2 teaspoons of coconut oil in her mouth for 20 minutes and spits it out. Then, she rinses with warm water and proceeds to brushing her teeth.
Flossing your teeth might seem like one step too much, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
It is very effective in reaching food particles in-between teeth that a toothbrush can’t reach. Removing these is important to prevent plaque.
Just remember to do it gently to avoid irritating your gums.
Dr. Martin Giniger of Power Swabs says that flossing directly contributes to teeth whitening because the gentle scraping action helps lift away the surface stains and polish the surface of the teeth.
Ideally, you should do it following a meal, after brushing, at least once a day. And choose your floss wisely. There are many options now in the market.
There are brands that offer whitening properties. Some even have microscopic abrasive silica. Other brands contain calcium peroxide.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Some say that the acid in apple cider vinegar eats away at teeth stains, making it an effective whitener.
But some warn that the high acidity will in fact damage your teeth even more by weakening the enamel.
To manage the acid’s effect, Bhavyajyoti Chilukoti of The Health Site recommends using it not more than once a day. How?
Dilute apple cider vinegar with water
Chilukoti’s advice is to mix half a teaspoon of vinegar with one cup of water, as the undiluted form may harm your teeth. Gargle this in the morning and brush as usual afterward.
7. Crunchy Fruits and Veggies
Yes, eating fruits and vegetables are good for your overall health. But did you realize they offer an extra dental benefit?
Crunchy fruits or vegetables rub against your teeth when you munch on them, naturally scrubbing away superficial stains and polishing the surface.
Eat them crunchy
Chew carefully to allow the crunchy texture to do its work.
Apples in particular have malic acid, also found in strawberries, that removes surface stains.
Hard cheeses are good too, as these give your teeth the calcium boost that they need.
8. Banana, Orange or Lemon Peel
According to Southeast Family Dental, the high amounts of potassium, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and vitamin D in the ripe banana can help strengthen and whiten the teeth.
Rubbing the peel against your teeth helps remove surface stains and absorb the minerals into teeth.
Some people also use orange and lemon peels, but many advise against these due to the fruits’ high acid content, which can eventually wear away the teeth’s enamel.
Rub the peel against your teeth
Do this gently, and then brush with your preferred toothpaste. You may do this twice or thrice a week.
Sea salt contains many trace elements—calcium, magnesium, silicon, phosphorus, sodium, nickel and iron, to name a few.
Danica Collins of the Underground Health Reporter explains that these nutrients may whiten your teeth over time, aside from strengthening your gums, neutralizing the acids in your mouth, and protecting you against tartar and bad breath.
Salt and water
Collins recommends dipping a wet toothbrush into a half teaspoon of sea salt and brushing as you normally would.
You can also rinse with a saltwater solution—half a teaspoon of sea salt with four ounces of warm water.
Slosh it around in your mouth and spit it out when done.
Salt with baking soda
Make a paste with equal parts salt, baking soda, and water. Use this to brush your teeth once or twice a week.
10. Activated Charcoal
Gross, true. Yet not only can activated charcoal whiten teeth, it’s also very effective against intestinal poisoning. In fact, many hospitals use it on patients who have ingested toxins.
But…it’s black, and it stains things.
How can it whiten my teeth?
Naturally, the black looks scary and messy. However, the color washes away completely, and after a few uses, your teeth will noticeably get whiter.
Activated charcoal is a highly absorbent substance. And as a poison remedy, it works by pulling away toxins from the body. In the same way, the stains on your teeth will adhere to it, leaving you with nicer, brighter pearly-whites.
Here’s what the actual product looks like by the way.
Shall we start?
Use activated charcoal in loose powder or capsule form
If what you have is the capsule, take out the powder.
Wellness Mama advises to dip your wet toothbrush into the powdered charcoal and brush with it gently for 2 minutes. Then, spit it out carefully and rinse very well.
You may use this method as often as needed.
Turmeric isn’t just a spice that adds flavor and fragrance, it’s a remedy that the Chinese and Indian use to treat various ailments.
It also has abrasive and astringent properties, making it one of the recommended teeth whitening agents out there.
1st Family Dental worked with blogger Jessica French to test how effective turmeric is. They found that it basically has the same effect as baking soda. It gives teeth a nice polish, and makes teeth appear whiter for a time.
Use 2 parts turmeric powder, 1 part baking powder, and 1 part coconut oil to form a paste.
Brush gently for 2 minutes. It will stain your teeth upon application but will wash out clear after (much) rinsing.
A different recipe used roasted-then-powdered turmeric, lime juice, and salt to make toothpaste.
12. Basil and Neem (aka Margosa)
To use them, Joshi lists these methods:
Crush sundried basil leaves and mix with mustard oil. Use the resulting mixture to brush your teeth.
Neem or margosa toothbrush
You read that right—toothbrush. Use its twigs as a toothbrush, ideally with the basil paste.
Doing this technique will help release neem oil that will act as astringent on your teeth.
Tips to Prevent Teeth Stains
As you’ve read so far, there are many ways to whiten the outer part of the teeth, also called the enamel. What’s harder to make white is the inner part—the dentin. It naturally yellows as we age. So, we must do what we can to help keep white the protective coatings of our teeth for as long as we can.
The best and most basic way to keep your chompers looking bright is to brush them regularly, of course. A constant build-up of food particles will ensure plaque formulation and tooth decay, no matter what teeth whitening system you try. But, here are some additional tips to prevent the staining of your teeth:
- Floss. Clean out those places your toothbrush didn’t reach.
- Limit snacks, if possible. These provide more sugar for the bacteria inside your mouth.
- Avoid Teeth Staining Foods. Limit foods and drinks that can discolor teeth, such as dark berries, chocolate, coffee, dark soda, wine, tea, and fruit juice.
- Use a straw. This will help your teeth avoid contact with discoloring drinks.
- Rinse After Every Meal. Rinse your mouth with water immediately after consuming sugary, acidic, or teeth-staining products.
- Avoid smoking. Tobacco causes brown stains that penetrate the enamel.
- Visit your dentist every six months. Yes, many home remedies are effective and affordable as listed here, but nothing can replace a proper oral checkup with your dentist.
Bleaching Teeth at Home
So now we know how you can conveniently brighten up your smile using at-home products and how you can avoid stained teeth in the first place. But what if you need something more drastic…ASAP…but still can’t afford to get in-office treatment?
There are many dental bleaching products out there for every budget. Are they safe? If they’re professionally dispensed or store-bought, then generally, yes.
Just be sure to use carefully as directed and watch out for signs of irritation.
Be careful when buying these products. Do your due diligence and check the products sold online. Check information about the seller, manufacturer and ingredients.
Are they effective? Well, it would really depend on how stained your teeth are and on the product’s reliability.
Long-term results: Linda Dyett of Consumer Guide to Dentistry says that, surprisingly, many dental professionals believe that dentist-prescribed products or systems can be more successful than in-office treatments in the long run. It’s primarily because of their ongoing use and regular application.
A wide array of choices: There are lots of options to choose from. It can be natural or synthetic. We’ll talk about some of them later.
Convenience and portability: Use them whenever and wherever you want, day or night, at home or in the office.
Budget-friendly: Set your budget, and start the hunt! Products range from $4 to $400. On the other hand, in-office treatments average out to $650 per session.
Lack of professional supervision: Since you’ll be doing it all on your own, there’s the danger of using them incorrectly or overusing them.
This could lead to harming your tooth enamel and irritating your gum tissue.
Over-bleaching can also produce the “technicolor effect”. This is the bluish hue, chalky whiteness, or uneven result that you get when you overdo the bleaching.
Most Common At-Home Bleaching Products and Systems
Take-home custom-fitted trays
You can get these dental trays from your dentist. He’ll make a mold of your teeth using a flexible plastic material and give you a strong bleaching gel to use at home.
You squeeze the gel onto the trays and cover your teeth with them.
This will ensure that the bleach stays in complete contact with your teeth, prevent saliva from coming into contact with the gel (in effect diluting its strength), and minimize the amount of bleaching agent that can trickle onto (and most likely irritate) the gums.
One take-home kit is typically good for one two-week treatment per year, plus one- or two-day touch-ups every four to six months. To see quickly how these trays are used, here’s a short clip.
These work the same way as the custom-fitted ones mentioned, but the mouthpieces used are one-size-fits-all stocks. These also usually have a lower concentration of bleaching agent than custom trays.
If you’ve tried tray whitening before and now know how to use the system, then OTC trays can be a more affordable solution than custom trays.
These flexible plastic strips have a gel like bleach coating. You stick them onto your teeth, and they conform to the shape—no mixing or molding required.
They’re easier to use and less expensive than trays. They have a set length, though, so they can’t reach all of your teeth. Some can cover up to six (the ones that show).
However it wouldn’t be a good option for people with crooked teeth because it isn’t flexible enough. Also it won’t reach stains in between teeth.
Additionally, saliva can more easily get in contact with the gel and dilute its potency. It can also cause the strips to slip and slide.
Paint-on or brush-on formulas
With this method, you simply apply the bleaching product directly to your teeth using pens with brush-on or foam-tip applicators.
It’s easy to use and typically applied after meals to remove fresh stains from food and drinks.
It’s much cheaper too. Dental professionals, however, are divided as to the effectiveness of this method.
These toothpastes have more than your normal plaque-removing formula. They contain chemical bleaching agents and abrasives in high concentrations.
Professionals say these won’t likely give you the striking results that you’re looking for, but they’re good backup support for other teeth whitening systems. You’ll have to use them regularly, of course, for them to have any effect at all.
The best time to give at-home bleaching a go is after a prophylactic cleaning from your dental hygienist.
This procedure thoroughly cleans the teeth by removing tartar (mineralized plaque), and thereby removing surface impediments that can get in the way of effective whitening.
Brush and floss right before using any whitening system at home. This will ensure that no grime will block the bleaching agent from reaching your teeth.
Avoid eating or drinking (except water) for two hours after bleaching.
Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.