woman checking teeth
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What Works? What Doesn't?

You think your smile could use a pick-me-up, but you don't want to invest the time or money for in-office treatments. You're not sold on drugstore gels or strips either.
Some natural, at-home remedies are safe and can whiten your teeth. Find out what your best bets are, and which to not bother with.

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man flossing his teeth
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Brushing and Flossing

Good oral hygiene is a tried-and-true method for keeping your smile looking its best. Toothpastes gently buff out stains from the surface of your teeth. Whitening toothpastes work the same way with more ingredients; they don't bleach your teeth. Flossing gets rid of food and bacteria that could harden into plaque, which makes your teeth look dull and darker.

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coconut oil
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Oil Pulling

This technique is popular in Ayurvedic medicine. You swish a tablespoon of oil (such as sesame, coconut, or olive oil) around in your mouth for up to 20 minutes to "pull out" bacteria. A recent study found that using coconut oil could prevent tooth decay, but there's no science to support it leaving a sparkle.

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jar of baking soda
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Baking Soda

Besides helping batter rise, it's also a mild abrasive that scrubs away stains. You could try using a DIY paste of baking soda, but you'll probably get better results by switching to a toothpaste with sodium bicarbonate. Studies show brushing with products that have baking soda will work on surface stains over time.

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woman eating apple
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Apples, Pineapples, Strawberries

Malic acid in apples boosts saliva to wash away acids. Toothpastes with bromelain, a compound in pineapple, help whiten teeth. But there's no evidence that eating these fruits will make your grin gleam. Skip the strawberries, too. A study in Operative Dentistry found that brushing with a mixture of them and baking soda had no whitening effects. Even worse, the citric acid in strawberries can break down enamel, the outer shell of your tooth.

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pouring hydrogen peroxide
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Hydrogen Peroxide

It's the bleaching agent found in most home whitening kits. It actually changes a tooth's color. One study found that painting an over-the-counter gel with 6% hydrogen peroxide on teeth made a noticeable difference after 2 weeks. The inexpensive bottles of liquid you can buy in a drugstore usually have a lower percentage. And the American Dental Association says swishing will probably irritate your gums before it whitens your teeth.

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apple cider vinegar
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Apple Cider Vinegar

Gargle before you brush to help kill bacteria and remove stains, they say. You'll get a whiter smile, they say.
Sorry, no studies confirm these claims. While it can brighten the taste of your salad dressing, don't expect apple cider vinegar to brighten your teeth.

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ground and whole turmeric
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The warm, bitter spice that's known for flavoring curry is also a natural dye that can turn white fabric a bright gold. Supposedly, turmeric paste can turn dingy teeth back to pearly white. Hold the mustard, though. There's no solid research to back this up.

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cup of black coffee
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Watch What You Eat

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Foods including dark berries and drinks such as coffee, red wine, and soda are known offenders, but you don't have to give them up. Enjoy these in moderation, and rinse with water right afterward so there's less chance they'll affect your teeth. (Wait 30 minutes before brushing to protect the enamel.)
Smoking and chewing tobacco can also cause stains, which is another reason to quit.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/12/2020 Reviewed by Evan Frisbee, DMD on February 12, 2020

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2) Thinkstock
3) Thinkstock
4) Thinkstock
5) Getty
6) Pomberg/WebMD
7) Thinkstock
8) Thinkstock
9) Thinkstock
10) Thinkstock

American Dental Association: "Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile," "Learn More About Floss & Interdental Cleaners," "Learn More About Chewing Gum."

Singh, A. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, April-June 2011.

Society for General Microbiology: "Coconut Oil Could Combat Tooth Decay."

Kleber, C.J. Journal of Clinical Dentistry, July 1998.

Ghassemi, A. Journal of Clinical Dentistry, July 2012.

Nainan, M.T. Journal of Conservative Dentistry, published online Nov. 13, 2014.

Gomez-Merano, G. Medicina Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal, published online Aug. 28, 2012.

Patil, P.A. International Journal of Dental Hygiene, published online July 21, 2014.

Kwon, S.R. Operative Dentistry, published online Oct. 3, 2014.

Kwon, S.R. Odontology, published online June 28, 2014.

Calatayud, J.O. International Journal of Dentistry, published online Feb. 4, 2010.

ADA Council on Scientific Affairs: "Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients," revised November 2010.

ADA Patient Smart: "Tooth Whitening," 2013.

Reviewed by Evan Frisbee, DMD on February 12, 2020

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