How to Whiten Your Teeth Without Damaging Them

Teeth whitening is a popular solution to combat dental discoloration caused by drinking coffee, eating certain foods, smoking and the natural aging process. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), teeth whitening ranked among the highest demand and most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure performed as reported by 351 dental professional respondents.

Teeth whitening ranked among the highest demand and most popular cosmetic dentistry procedures.

While teeth whitening can be safe and effective, using the wrong method can also lead to permanent damage to your teeth. Examples of the damage you could encounter when whitening your teeth using certain products or in improper ways include:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Etching of teeth
  • Gum irritation
  • Teeth appearing more discolored than before whitening
  • Increased risk of tooth fracture
  • Teeth absorbing more stains than before teeth staining
  • Loss of protective enamel

For instance, if you lose enamel, your teeth will become sensitive and darker in color. To avoid these risks, it's best to opt for safe at-home tooth whitening options or professional teeth whitening from your dentist.

Here is what you should know about how to whiten your teeth at home safely, as well as when it's time to see a dentist for a professional teeth whitening procedure.

DIY and Other At-Home Teeth Whitening Methods

Everyone wants to enjoy beautiful, white teeth, but it's essential to avoid methods that could be damaging to your tooth enamel. Many home remedies for tooth whitening exist, and some of them are safer and more effective than others. If you're wondering how to whiten your teeth without damaging them, consider the following options:

  • Baking Soda: While some argue baking soda is too abrasive to use on your teeth, dental researchers have found it has a rating of seven on the Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) scale of 0 to 269. The RDA level tells you how hard (or abrasive) a substance is on your teeth. As long as you brush softly, baking soda can help gently remove stains from the surface of your teeth.
  • Whitening Strips: These home tooth-bleaching products mold to the shape of your teeth to whiten natural teeth. In June 2017, the American Dental Association (ADA) awarded Crest 3D White Whitestrips Glamorous White teeth whitening strips its seal of approval in showing safety and efficacy in natural whitening teeth efficacy. It’s the first product in this category to receive the ADA’s seal of approval.
  • Whitening Toothpaste: Because they contain low concentrations of carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, whitening toothpaste can lighten tooth shades, but typically only about one or two shades. In their effort to reduce tough stains, whitening toothpaste can be abrasive, resulting in enamel erosion and dentin exposure over time. Whitening toothpaste typically does not contain bleach.
Whitening toothpaste can lighten tooth shades, but can't completely whiten teeth.
  • Whitening Rinses: Like whitening toothpaste, whitening mouth rinses can improve tooth color by up to one or two shades. They contain oxygen sources, like hydrogen peroxide, to lighten teeth. It can take up to three months to see just a one or two-shade improvement and involves rinsing your mouth twice a day for 60 seconds each time.

Natural Teeth Whitening Methods to Avoid

Remember, just because it's natural does not mean it's harmless. Many DIY whitening methods cause permanent damage to the enamel of your teeth. Be sure to stay away from the following solutions:

  • Lemon and Baking Soda: Some household cleaners comprise this combination, but you definitely shouldn't apply it to your teeth. A 2008 study found lemon juice is the most corrosive to tooth enamel when compared to grapefruit juice and orange juice. Lemon juice has a pH of just 2.2, which is very acidic. While it may lighten your teeth, it will do so at a significant cost.
  • Strawberries: You may hear recommendations to brush your teeth with fresh strawberries for natural whitening, but they get their power from ascorbic acid. Strawberries can be an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet, but it's necessary to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after eating them, as this acid is harmful to your teeth.
  • Activated Charcoal: After a simple search online, people who want to know how to whiten their teeth naturally will quickly discover activated charcoal. With this method, you smear a charcoal-derived black mixture onto your teeth. This naturally occurring form of carbon works by binding with compounds that cause stains — like wine, coffee and plaque — and working to remove them. There are some concerns with activated charcoal, however. The American Dental Association (ADA) says activated charcoal is abrasive enough to damage the enamel of your teeth, and it hasn't yet been found safe or effective. Activated charcoal is also highly absorbent and can lead to deteriorated enamel and tooth erosion. Because its natural process is so strong, it can wear away your enamel and expose the yellower, softer layers of your teeth. If you still want to try activated charcoal after hearing this, apply it to your teeth as a paste and do not scrub. Do not use it daily. Instead, try it for a week or two to see if it works, then discontinue use. Again, it’s not a recommended at-home teeth whitening method.
  • Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar: Dental professionals don’t recommend using a salt and vinegar paste to whiten your teeth. As with lemon juice and strawberries, vinegar is very acidic and causes damage to your teeth, as well as increased risk of tooth decay and sensitivity.
  • Wood Ash: A common folk remedy for whitening your teeth is rubbing them with wood ash from a fireplace. This method stems from the fact wood ash contains lye or potassium hydroxide. Unfortunately, aside from being unpleasant, brushing with wood ash can damage your teeth due to the hardness of the lye.

Ways to Keep Your Teeth White Through Everyday Habits

While there is no way to prevent dental discoloration altogether, as it's a part of aging, your diet plays a significant role in how white your teeth look. These naturally teeth-whitening foods may help you to hold on to your bright, white smile and prevent stains:

  • Broccoli, Cauliflower and Other Coarse Vegetables: These foods are high in fiber and require a good amount of chewing. The longer you chew, the more saliva you will produce to break down stains on your teeth. The fiber-rich vegetables can also help scrape away superficial stains.
  • Pineapple: This exotic food is the only natural source of bromelain, an anti-inflammatory and cleaning compound found to effectively remove surface stains from teeth, according to a study published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene.
Pineapple is the only natural source of bromelain, a compound found to effectively remove surface stains from teeth.
  • Dairy Products: Dairy products contribute to a whiter smile by increasing saliva production to break down stains. Cheese also contains lactic acid, which helps to remove superficial stains on your teeth.
  • Nuts and Seeds: These snacks have a natural exfoliating effect. Their abrasive texture helps strip stains and discoloration on your teeth.
  • Onions: Onions contain sulfur compounds to help keep plaque from forming on your teeth. Plaque absorbs stains, makes them more noticeable and also contributes to gum disease.
  • Celery and Carrots: These veggies are high in water content and help to remove food debris from between your teeth. Their structure also lets them scrub your teeth while you chew to strip surface stains.

Tips for Keeping Your Teeth White

Along with eating the right foods, it matters when you eat them. To combat the staining effects of pasta sauce, for example, eat a salad first. Spinach and lettuce can create a temporary protective barrier on your teeth to guard against staining. Snacking on dairy, celery or nuts after drinking coffee or eating a stain-causing food can also help clean your teeth and prevent surface discoloration.

And of course, good oral hygiene is essential. No diet or home remedies are a substitute for regular brushing and flossing to remove plaque and cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth. Brush or rinse your mouth right after you’ve finished eating a stain-causing food or drink. You can also use a whitening toothpaste at least once or twice a week to prevent normal yellowing and surface stains.

Foods and Drinks That Stain Teeth

While some foods can help your teeth stay white naturally, others may be responsible for causing discolored teeth or harming your teeth. If you want to know how to whiten your teeth safely, you need to learn what’s causing their discoloration in the first place. Certain foods and beverages are significant culprits, so start by either eliminating or cutting down on them. Some examples include:

  • Citric and Acidic Foods: Tomatoes, oranges, and citrus fruits may be healthy, but they also erode the dentin of your teeth.
  • Pasta Sauce: Tomatoes are acidic and a common cause of tooth stains. Pasta sauce tends to cling to the teeth, increasing the risk of stains.
  • Berries: While berries like raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are full of antioxidants, they're also notorious for causing stains whether you eat them whole or as jelly. Eating cheese or drinking milk after enjoying berries can neutralize the acid.
Eating cheese or drinking milk can neutralize acid from berries.
  • Coffee: Coffee contains high levels of tannins, or acidic polyphenols, that discolor your teeth. The acidity of coffee also changes the pH balance in your mouth. If you eat acidic foods after drinking coffee, they can damage your teeth faster.
  • Tea: Like coffee, tea also contains tannins that damage your teeth. If you drink black tea, it will stain your teeth yellow over time. On the other hand, green tea can stain your teeth gray. Adding a bit of milk to your tea can reduce its ability to cause staining.
  • Red Wine: Red wines, like merlot, pinot noir and cabernet, can stain your teeth shades of gray due to their high levels of tannins.
  • White Wine: While chardonnay, pinot grigio and other types of white wine don’t cause stains, they can make existing stains darker by creating small holes on the surface of your teeth that allow other stain-causing beverages to seep in.

Professional Teeth Whitening Options

Want to know how to whiten your teeth without damaging enamel? Professional teeth whitening options offer much faster results than at-home methods, and they can safely whiten your teeth without risking enamel damage. In general, you can take one of three routes.

1. Chairside Bleaching

The advantages of dental chairside teeth bleaching include that it's safe and produces fast results. However, it can lead to tooth sensitivity. Chairside bleaching ranges from about $390 to $920, with an average of around $650. Maintenance is often required to keep the results, and the procedure can cause some temporary tooth sensitivity. Chairside bleaching typically takes 30 minutes to an hour.

Dental chairside bleaching is safe and fast, but can lead to tooth sensitivity.

2. At-Home Custom Tray Whitening

For the safest and most effective at-home teeth whitening method, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) recommends you use custom-fitted trays supplied by your dentist. Ill-fitting teeth whitening trays can cause the gel to ooze out and irritate your gums. With trays specially made to fit your bite and mouth, you avoid this side effect.

At-home custom tray whitening is less expensive than chair whitening but takes longer to achieve your desired results. You typically need to wear the tray either during the day for two to four hours or overnight, depending on the product. Continue this for about two weeks on average, but possibly for four to six weeks. Fees for at-home whitening systems per arch range from $175 to $450.

These trays usually contain carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching agent. Keep in mind, at-home treatments can be just as effective as an in-office treatment, although they require up to two weeks for results as compared to one hour. Whitening trays are more affordable than an in-office whitening treatment, and the trays can last for up to five years.

3. Combination At-Home and In-Office: KöR Teeth Whitening System

At Nirvana Dental, we offer the KöR Whitening System, which involves a combination of at-home and in-office treatments to reach optimal results. In fact, the KöR whitening system can lighten teeth quite dramatically — by up to 16 shades or more. This system whitens your teeth to a shade that looks natural for you.

With the KöR whitening system, you wear a custom-molded tray, which will fit securely over your teeth. The whitening gel provides more than six hours of teeth whitening power. MostKöR Teeth Whitening products recommend you wear a custom-fitted tray for two weeks either during the day or the night, depending on the type you and your dentist decide is best.

If you combine the at-home deep bleaching option, you'll bleach two weeks at home followed by one in-office session. The in-office procedure involves a combination of carbamide peroxide and Hydremide peroxide solutions and is an enamel-friendly product.

Two highlights of the KöR Teeth Whitening System include its unique ability to:

  1. Reduce the appearance of stains from tetracycline, an antibiotic
  2. Keep your teeth white for many years

KöR ingredients enhance your teeth's ability to absorb oxygen molecules in the bleaching gel. Oxygen molecules apply powerful, stain-removing properties and continuously dissolve discoloration and stains.

To help reduce sensitivity associated with bleaching gels, the KöR Whitening product remains refrigerated. For patients with severe tooth sensitivity, Nirvana Dental's Dr. Vartikar can apply a KöR Desensitizer after an in-office whitening session.

Are There Side Effects or Risks of Professional Whitening Treatments?

Professional whitening treatments can be safe and effective for intrinsic (deep) and extrinsic (superficial) stains. According to the ADA, some people do experience side effects, such as inflammation of the gums and temporary tooth sensitivity, which affect anywhere from 8 percent to 41 percent of people. All forms of teeth whitening can cause temporary sensitivity, which will go away on its own after a few days or weeks.

While professional whitening has a high patient satisfaction rate and is one of the best methods for whitening teeth without damaging enamel, it isn't the right option for everyone. You may not be a good candidate if:

  • You are pregnant or nursing
  • You have sensitive gums or teeth
  • You are allergic to peroxide
  • You have worn enamel, cavities, exposed roots or gum disease
  • You have crowns, fillings, or other types of dental restorations — these restorations comprise from porcelain or resin and will not whiten, so they will not match your other whitened teeth
  • You have white spot decalcifications — these spots will become whiter and more evident after a whitening treatment
  • You have gray-appearing stains — they will not respond as well to bleaching agents as yellowish or even brownish stained teeth

Realize the Power of Professional Teeth Whitening From Nirvana Dental

While changing your diet, avoiding stain-causing foods and using at-home teeth whitening methods can help you achieve a brighter smile, nothing offers the fast results a professional in-office whitening treatment can deliver. If you’re concerned about noticeable stains, or your teeth just aren't as bright as they used to be, contact our Nirvana Dental by filling out our contact form or calling (682)703-0101 to schedule an appointment. Our dentist, Dr. Prachi Vartikar, DMD, will be able to help you decide if a professional whitening treatment is right for you.

Smile bright, smile wide, Don't let cavities hide!