The Best Natural Teeth Whitening Methods (And A Few To Avoid), According To Holistic Dentists

We separate the woo-woo whiteners from the rest.

August 25, 2017
white teeth
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We don’t have to tell you that those teeth whitening strips, paint-on gels, and take-home trays are loaded with chemicals. Sure, they may rid your teeth of the red wine and coffee stains, but the quick chemical fix can take its toll on your teeth.

“Over-the counter bleaching agents and in-office whiteners use concentrated peroxide which denatures and dehydrates enamel,” says New York City holistic dentist Dr. Lewis Gross, DDS. “If the user has receded gums, the exposed root tubules are stripped of their protective coating making the teeth extremely cold sensitive and prone to future root canal.”

Some even so-called “natural” whiteners can erode enamel and set your teeth up for sensitivity. So we reached out to holistic dentists to find out the best natural whiteners and the ones to avoid (hint: apple cider vinegar is on the naughty list.)

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coconut oil
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Try it: oil pulling

You might think oil pulling is a recent trend, but the age-old Ayurvedic practice has been around for centuries—and New York City holistic dentist Dr. Esther Rubin, DDS, is a devotee: “It’s healthy for the gums, it’s been show to pull out stains from teeth and some people have reported that it’s improved their breath,” she says.

The method involves taking a tablespoon of oil (coconut, sesame, olive oil) and swishing it around in your mouth for 20 minutes—“tug on it through your teeth, using your lips, cheeks and tongue to pull,” suggest Rubin—then spitting it out in the garbage and rinsing with water.

Studies show oil pulling can help reduce tooth decay and gingivitis, but its stain-removing capabilities are more anecdotal. Experts believe the oil has a soap-like effect, loosening and lifting away stains. Sure, it takes 20 minutes (no talking!), but it’s a cheap and gentle alternative that won’t damage enamel or gums.

Related: "I Tried Oil Pulling For A Month And Here's What Happened"

activated charcoal
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Try it: activated charcoal

Don’t let the pitch-black color of activated charcoal powder fool you. Made from wood, coconut shells, and other materials that have been heated to high temperatures and oxidized, rendering it highly absorbent, it’s the go-to natural whitener for Scottsdale holistic cosmetic dentist Dr. Jason Jones, DMD. “I enjoy its brightening and staining removal capabilities,” says Jones who adds a dab of charcoal to a damp, soft-bristled toothbrush. (Check out 8 more uses for activated charcoal here.)

Not that you should be brushing with the black stuff daily. Charcoal is abrasive—the scrubbing action removes buildup and external stains—but too much of a good thing can also wear away at your enamel, so stick to 2-3 times a week. “Aim for charcoal made specifically for teeth as the granules are finer and less abrasive,” adds Jones who’s also a fan of My Magic Mud, a charcoal toothpaste that’s natural and fluoride-free. 

Related: One Of The Best Selling Teeth Whiteners On Amazon Is Made From Natural Coconut Charcoal

(Got a sweet tooth? These blender ice creams satisfy without all the sugar—and cavities.)

teeth mask
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Try it: a DIY teeth mask

Move over Crest Whitestrips. Cleveland holistic dentist Dr. Scott Rose, DDS, suggests a natural leave-on treatment: Ozonated coconut oil or olive oil (about ¼ teaspoon) with a pinch of activated charcoal and turmeric. “Mix together into a slurry, brush on teeth, leave on for a few minutes and rinse,” says Rose who suggests applying it to the anterior teeth (skip the molars) twice a day after regular bushing and flossing.

Ozonated oil is oil infused with ozone, an excellent disinfectant and antimicrobial that helps breakdown protein deposits, while anti-bacterial turmeric reduces gum inflammation and activated charcoal can absorb impurities. Just be careful, as turmeric can stain your sink.

Related: 6 Impressive Health Benefits Of Turmeric

baking soda
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Try it: baking soda

While some argue that baking soda is too abrasive for the teeth, Dr. Gross is fan. He suggests combining 1 teaspoon baking soda with a pinch of turmeric into a paste and brushing once a day with a soft bristled brush. The one-two punch of baking soda and turmeric can remove built-up plaque and stains, while the alkalizing action of baking soda can help restore the mouth’s natural pH balance to fend off future discoloration and decay. Or try Gross’ Alka-White Mouthwash, an all-natural tooth whitening tablet made with baking soda, coconut oil, essential oils, and spices.

Related: 12 Things Your Dentist Knows About You Just By Looking In Your Mouth

lemon slices
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Skip: lemon slices

While the internet says rubbing citrus over your teeth can lighten your smile, lemons are loaded with acids that could discolor your teeth over the long haul. “Acids give the impression of whitening teeth because they etch the teeth,” says Rose. “This is really destroying the enamel crystal matrix and over a period of time makes it more susceptible to stain and breakdown.”

In fact, one study comparing the effect of beverages on teeth found that lemon juice was significantly more erosive to dentin, the layer of tooth just blow the enamel, than all other liquids, including Coca-Cola, Sprite and Red Bull. Yikes! 

Related: I Tried Putting Lemon Juice On My Face For A Week And This Is What Happened

apple cider vinegar
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Skip: apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar may be pegged a cure-all (studies show the acetic acid in ACV boosts metabolism, kills cravings and tames blood sugar), but swishing the fermented stuff isn’t doing your teeth any favors. “Apple cider vinegar is acidic and can contribute to erosion and even accelerate decay,” says Jones. If you do swig, follow it up with a rinse of water and avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes to avoid brushing the acid deeper into your pearly whites.

Related: How To Make Healthy Homemade Energy Drinks With Apple Cider Vinegar