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Teeth Whitening Home Remedies

Aug 9, 2011
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Last Updated 8/9/2011 - It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that people have always been interested in better looking teeth; wanting to look attractive is a natural part of the human experience. Archeologists have found evidence of teeth whitening dating as far back as 5,000 years; usually sticks with a frayed edge used to approximate the function of a toothbrush. Cleaning and whitening pastes and polishes, too, are not new inventions, but continue a long line of dental experimentation and innovation. In this article we cover the history of teeth whitening along with dangerous modern day home remedies.

Toothbrushes: The First Teeth Whiteners

The first teeth whitener was the toothbrush. Toothbrushes with bristles (like pasta and gunpowder) seem to have been invented in China around the 16th century and then exported to Europe. The handles were usually made of wood or bone and the bristles were made of hog hair. Toothbrushes were used by the wealthy for the next several hundred years - with other animal hairs sometimes replacing the hog's hair bristle. But it took until 1938 to eliminate hog's hair bristle toothbrushes altogether, thanks to the help of DuPont, who'd invented "nylon" to serve the same purpose. Unfortunately the first nylon toothbrushes were so hard, they damaged the teeth they were supposed to whiten and clean - and it took another 10 years for DuPont to create soft vinyl - so the bristles were much more flexible and healthy for the teeth.

Ancient Home Remedies

Both the Egyptians and the Romans have left records of their teeth whitening efforts. The Egyptians mixed a paste of pumice stone and vinegar that used the abrasion of the pumice and acid of the vinegar to remove tooth stains. The Romans found that urine - a natural source of ammonia - whitened the teeth. Ammonia, when used in highly diluted solutions, has cleaning and brightening properties. Europeans throughout the 17th and 18th centuries turned to their barbers, who ground down their teeth and then applied an acid solution to remove stains.

Toothpastes and Beyond

With the invention of commercial toothpaste, between 1800 and 1850, Americans concerned with dental health and whiter smiles had their first "go-to" product - from Colgate. In the 1960's, years of studying the element fluoride yielded another significant advance - with cavity-fighting and teeth whitening fluoride toothpastes. And, in the 1980's, another important step forward was taken - recently stabilized hydrogen peroxide formulas meant that true whitening toothpastes could be developed - and then sold to a public eager for whiter, brighter smiles. In the 1990s and 2000s extremely effective whitening systems based on carbamide and hydrogen peroxide formulas became available to the public. Now whitening systems based on this formula continue to innovate at a very fast rate.

A Long Tradition of Home Remedies

Even with a wide variety of teeth whitening toothpastes - and wildly popular whitening kits, strips, lights and other procedures - some people are still turn to old, home remedies for results; primarily for budgetary reasons.

Some authorities are also advocating home methods today. Dr. Mehmet Oz, noted TV personality and physician addresses a few dental do-it-yourself methods online, including strawberries, a blend of lemon juice and baking soda, raisins and apples.

"While some of these home remedies appear to have worked over the years, many, if not most, of them are downright dangerous - and people really need to be aware. They were developed when people didn't have other, affordable and healthy whitening alternatives" says Dr. Rod Kurthy, practicing dentist, teeth whitening expert and advisor to "Many of the old home remedies - including the ones mentioned by Dr. Oz on his website - rely on a too-strong acid-based solution to whiten - and that acid wears away the natural calcium in your teeth, making them susceptible to decay," he says. "Mixing lemon juice and baking soda can actually erode tooth enamel and cause permanent sensitivity."

Clearly, from the perspective of informed dentists and other oral care professionals - DIY teeth whitening is something you leave alone!

Acid-Based Teeth Whitening Home Remedies

Whitening Teeth with Lemon Juice

Procedure: Brushing or rinsing with lemon juice or lemon juice/baking soda

Some people advocate the use of lemon juice to whiten teeth, but lemon juice is actually citric acid & can harm teeth, causing them to lose calcium (which gives teeth some of their off-white color). Once calcium is lost, it's irreplaceable. And, as just mentioned above, combining lemon juice with baking soda is another bad idea - not only will the acid of the lemon juice (more powerful than vinegar and proven to dissolve actual BONE in chemistry class experiments) leech calcium from teeth - the baking soda will erode tooth enamel with the potential to cause permanent damage. Lemons have a pH of 2.3 which is very low. The lower the pH, the more acidic it is. Note that if you put lemon juice directly on your teeth, it causes damage starting immediately. It is quite common now for dentists to deal with tooth destruction caused by people sucking on lemons.

Whitening Teeth with Strawberries

Procedure: Brushing teeth using mashed strawberries

It is also not advisable to brush your teeth with strawberries - strawberries get their power to brighten teeth from ascorbic acid - and acids are harmful to teeth. If someone chooses to brush with strawberries, they should be sure to brush teeth immediately with fluoride toothpaste, and then to floss.

Whitening Teeth with Apples

Procedure: Eating apples

Dr. Oz suggests whitening your teeth by crunching on an apple! And while apples have plenty of wholesome and healthy attributes - whitening your teeth safely isn't among them. Apples are fine as fruit - but not as a substitute for oral hygiene like brushing and flossing. And any brightening that might occur is the result from a slight amount of naturally-occurring malic acid (another acid) - only you'd have to eat SO MANY apples to see any difference, you're running the risk of acid-based damage again.

Teeth Whitening Home Remedies that Rely on Abrasion

Whitening Teeth with Baking Soda

Procedure: Using Baking Soda with toothpaste while brushing

Baking Soda won't bleach your teeth, but it cam remove plaque as it is an abrasive. Be warned though; Because baking soda is an abrasive, if you use it too frequently, it will damage tooth enamel. Again, most commercial toothpastes will remove stains as effectively as baking soda, and do so without side effects.

Whitening Teeth with Wood Ash

Procedure: Brushing teeth using wood ash (i.e. from your fireplace)

The reason wood ash whitens teeth is because it contains potassium hydroxide (aka lye). However, only hard wood ash contains significant concentrations of potassium hydroxide. Soft wood ash does not. Before lye was available commercially, soap was made by leeching the potassium hydroxide from hard wood ash and then combining it with tallow (rendered animal fat). Whitening with wood ash is dangerous. The harshness of the potassium hydroxide could significantly damage your teeth over time.

Brushing Teeth with Sea Salt

Some home whiteners also advocate the use of a paste or a "rub" of sea salt, combined with water or even an acid, such as cider vinegar. The use of abrasive compounds along with the acid-based vinegar will probably brighten teeth a bit, but no more so than a commercial application. Plus, with repeated use of the salt/vinegar paste, you will experience tooth damage through decay or increased sensitivity.

Teeth Whitening Home Remedies that Rely on a Polishing Method

Whitening Teeth with Olive Oil

Procedure: Polishing teeth using an olive oil soaked towel.

Taking a clean towel and applying olive oil to your teeth is said to both brighten and polish teeth to make them appear whiter. While we can't attest to its effectiveness, we encourage our readers to use commercial pastes and polishes to eliminate even the chance of discomfort or damage.

Teeth Whitening Home Remedies that Rely on Increased Saliva Production

Whitening Teeth with Raisins

Procedure: Eating raisins

Dr. Oz says, "raisins help to keep your teeth white by inducing saliva production. An increased level of salvia naturally helps to rinse away plaque." But that's not really whitening, is it? Plus raisins HAVE a significant amount of sugar. That's not to say they're not healthy, but the STICKY type of sugar in raisins will lodge between teeth, sit there giving off their sugar, helping to start or accelerate forming cavities. And whitening has nothing whatsoever to do with saliva production.

Be Safe, Not Sorry

The primary reason for avoiding home remedies is that they're subject to mis-application. There are no formulas or procedures created to assure safe usage, so there's a real risk of severe and permanent tooth or gum damage. No dentist reviews your oral health before you begin to use them, so there's no way of knowing if any specific home remedy would affect your particular teeth or gums.

On the other hand, reputable companies spend thousands of hours testing their commercial teeth whitening products and methods - to determine a standardized application protocol that's safe for most people and to avoid costly lawsuits should there be any adverse effects. Additionally, when you choose a teeth whitening method that requires dental supervision, you can be sure your dentist will evaluate your dental health before proceeding; adding a second level of care and caution to prevent damage or discomfort.

Since people have been trying to whiten their smiles for thousands of years, there are undoubtedly hundreds of goofy and implausible concoctions designed to do the job. Happily, we live in the 21st century, where reliable and affordable answers can be found in every drug or grocery store. So, do yourself a favor, head for the dental care aisle and stay away from the fruit section. AND stay away from getting advice from pseudo-doctors like Dr. Oz. He is giving out whitening home remedy advice, when in fact he doesn't have the slightest clue of what he is talking about.

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