Healthy Living

DIY Teeth Whitening: Too Good to Be True?

Jun. 20, 2016

From wedding dresses to recipes and beyond, anyone can post or “pin” ideas they have to the popular website Pinterest—including health tips. But if some of the do-it-yourself teeth whitening advice you see there seems too good to be true, it’s likely because it is. UR Medicine dental expert Dr. Hans Malmstrom explains why some of the tips may have negative consequences.

Pinterest Tip: To whiten teeth, use a mouth guard with 2 parts baking soda to 1 part hydrogen peroxide, 10 minutes daily for 2 weeks.

Dr. Malmstrom: It’s not a good idea to use a mouth guard for whitening that’s not specifically fitted for your mouth by a dentist because the hydrogen peroxide could irritate your gums. If your gums are recessed and the hydrogen peroxide touches an exposed tooth root surface, this can also cause a problem.

Another potential issue can be the amount of hydrogen peroxide used. The concentration approved as safe and effective by the FDA and ADA for tooth whitening (10 percent Carbamide Peroxide) is similar to 3.6 percent hydrogen peroxide. Since it would be extremely difficult to mix the amount of hydrogen peroxide accurately when you’re using it at home, it’s not a good idea to try this whitening method.

Pinterest Tip: Wet your toothbrush and then dip it in 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder. Brush teeth as normal but, instead of rinsing when you’re done, allow the turmeric to sit on your teeth for 3 to 5 minutes. Spit and rinse thoroughly then follow with a second brushing using your regular toothpaste.

close-up of woman's smileDr. Malmstrom: There are many studies showing how turmeric is good for you internally, but there are no studies showing turmeric to be an effective tooth whitener. I would not recommend any method that hasn’t already been proven to work, as we have safe and effective techniques that have been researched.

Pinterest Tip: Make coconut oil toothpaste by mixing 1 part coconut oil with 1 part baking soda. Add 3 to 5 drops of food-grade essential oils to flavor to your taste. Allow your paste to cool and set.

Dr. Malmstrom: The baking soda in this tip may have some impact on whitening your teeth but there are no studies showing if coconut oil works as a tooth whitener. If you’re going to do tooth whitening at home, you’re better off using an over-the-counter product rather than a DIY technique.

Pinterest Tip: Mix 3 teaspoons of baking soda with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Use a Q-tip or cotton ball and gently swab teeth. After 30 seconds, rinse and brush teeth.

Dr. Malmstrom: Lemon juice is acidic, and even whitening gels are not good if they’re acidic because you can remove the superficial layer of the tooth structure. Most whitening gels are all neutral with a PH of 7 because you want to minimize the acidic effect on your teeth so it doesn’t impact the enamel layer. While this method may have a positive effect because of the baking soda, it’s not recommended to use an acidic on the tooth first as it may erode some of the enamel. This is similar to the effect cola or sports drinks have on teeth because they are also highly acidic.

Other Tooth Whitening Advice

  • Before you do any bleaching, even with over-the-counter products, you should have your teeth checked by your dentist for any tooth problems, such as cavities or cracks, which could cause the pulp to become irritated during whitening.
  • Whitening toothpaste is not very effective for whitening. You have to use it for a long time to see even the slightest effect.
  • The best way to bleach your teeth is at home with a lower-concentration hydrogen peroxide gel, as recommended by your dentist and used in mouth guards custom made by your dentist. The level of whitening achieved in an hour and a half of bleaching done by a dentist at the office can take up to two weeks with home bleaching, but there are fewer side effects and you have the opportunity to continue whitening until you are satisfied with the shade. Later on if you wish to “touch up” your teeth with more whitening, you would only need to buy more whitening gel.


Hans Malmstrom, DDSHans Malmstrom, DDS, a professor of Dentistry at Eastman Institute for Oral Health, heads the General Dentistry clinic at Eastman Dental.