Dentist reveals what she does instead of "harmful" teeth-whitening trend (2024)

In an age of dating apps and social media, many of us are feeling more self-conscious than ever about the color of our teeth.

Roughly 37 million people in the U.S. used tooth whiteners as of 2020, according to U.S. Census data, with Americans spending billions of dollars every year on at-home whitening products. The subject #teethwhitening has been used over 300,000 times on TikTok, but could these at-home remedies be doing more harm than good?

Newsweek spoke to cosmetic dentist and social media star Joyce Kahng, @joycethedentist, to find out.

"A common array of mistakes surround the realm of teeth whitening, fueled partly by trends and misinformation, particularly visible on platforms like TikTok," Kahng told Newsweek.

Dentist reveals what she does instead of "harmful" teeth-whitening trend (1)

Kahng highlighted four particularly misleading trends: "For starters, the use of natural remedies such as turmeric for teeth whitening is misguided. Despite its popularity, there's no scientific backing for turmeric as a whitening agent, and its intense yellow color certainly doesn't suggest it would be effective.

"Another trend is the use of coconut oil, which, although it might leave teeth feeling cleaner, lacks scientific evidence to support any actual whitening effect. Similarly, charcoal-based products are often mistakenly believed to be beneficial for teeth whitening. While charcoal is indeed abrasive and can remove surface stains, its abrasiveness can be too harsh for the teeth.

"Additionally, there's a trend of using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide as a mouth rinse. Though hydrogen peroxide is a whitening agent, at this concentration, it's both too weak for effective whitening and potentially harmful to gums if not diluted. It's crucial to remember that whitening products should be used in a targeted manner, rather than applied indiscriminately across the entire mouth."

So if you want that celebrity smile, what should you do to whiten your teeth? First, it's important to understand that there are different types of tooth staining.

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"When it comes to teeth whitening, we're essentially addressing two types of stains: extrinsic and intrinsic," Kahng said. "Extrinsic stains are those on the outer surface of the teeth, commonly caused by substances like coffee and tea. These can often be removed during dental cleanings, which is why teeth might appear noticeably brighter after such appointments.

Teeth-whitening toothpastes are primarily designed to target these types of surface stains. "They serve not only to remove stains, but also to prevent new ones from forming," Kahng said. "However, if extrinsic stains are not addressed promptly, they can penetrate deeper into the teeth, becoming intrinsic stains.

"Intrinsic stains are embedded within the tooth and require more potent treatments to break them up, such as peroxide-based products like whitening strips or gels. So, while teeth-whitening toothpastes can be effective for surface stains, they do not alter the color of the tooth from within."

Some whitening toothpastes can actually damage the teeth if they are too abrasive, so it is always best to check with your dentist if you are unsure which products to use. This includes certain charcoal toothpastes, which Kahng said can be overly abrasive.

"However,] with the application of proper brushing techniques, using gentle motions and not applying excessive pressure, even toothpastes that are higher in abrasiveness can be used safely within the recommended guidelines," Kahng said.

With this in mind, what does Kahng use to maintain her pearly whites? "For daily maintenance, I prefer using a whitening toothpaste that's in the medium to high range of abrasiveness," she said.

"I find this level offers just the right amount of grit to keep the teeth clean without being too harsh, especially since most people tend to brush more aggressively than they should.

"As for my personal whitening regimen, due to my professional background, I utilize a unique method. I repurpose my Invisalign aligners as custom whitening trays, which I find to be highly effective. I pair these trays with an opalescent whitening gel, available at my office, in high concentrations—either 15 percent or 35 percent. This allows for a more potent whitening effect, tailored to my needs.

"I advocate for using custom-fitted trays for anyone considering teeth whitening. They're an excellent investment for achieving quick and efficient results. This method enables you to use professional-grade, high-concentration gels that are more effective and cost-efficient in the long run compared to over-the-counter options[...]without unnecessary additives."

However, teeth whitening is not just a one-off exercise: it requires maintenance. And the amount of maintenance required depends considerably on our diet. "Diet plays a significant role in the staining of teeth," Kahng said.

"Common culprits like coffee can lead to noticeable discoloration over time, even for those who regularly whiten their teeth[...]The more one indulges in foods and beverages known to stain teeth, the more frequently they may need to undertake whitening treatments to maintain their desired level of brightness."

Is there a health problem that's worrying you? Do you have a question about teeth whitening? Let us know via health@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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Dentist reveals what she does instead of "harmful" teeth-whitening trend (2024)
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