Have you ever used charcoal or lemon juice to whiten your teeth? What about
ordering a whitening kit online? It can be tempting to skip the dentist and do it
yourself with so many more affordable options out there. But it can also be pretty
disappointing when despite your efforts, your teeth don’t resemble the glowing
shade of that influencer you saw promoting the same kit on Instagram.
The beauty industry has innovated into the dental space in an effort to make
cosmetic teeth whitening affordable at home. But when it comes to highly regulated
industries such as dental, it’s important to make sure that the products you’re using
are effective and safe for at-home use. Here are four important reasons why DIY
whitening products might not be working for you.

1. The products don’t effectively remove stain

Outside sources of stain, otherwise known as extrinsic, are related to lifestyle, and
are amongst the common causes of teeth discolouration. Examples of these include
consuming pigmented food/drink such as coffee, red wine and turmeric and/or
smoking. The risk with home-care products that promise to remove stain, such as
whitening toothpastes that contain abrasives and/or charcoal, is that they’re harsh
on the tooth enamel and can strip it away when used frequently. Aggressive
brushing can also strip away gum tissue and cause gum recession. Stains need to be
removed gently and meticulously so as to not damage any tooth structure or gum
tissue in the process. The best and most effective way is to see a dentist or dental
hygienist who can do this for you. Once external stain is removed, then it’s possible
to maintain the colour with at-home products. These could be a good electric
toothbrush, and products that contain a small amount of peroxide such as
toothpastes and whitening strips.

2. The discolouration is from within the tooth itself

When discolouration comes from within the tooth, otherwise known as intrinsic, it’s
not as simple to treat and includes things like:

– Trauma: when a tooth is injured as a result of being knocked, it can turn
grey or yellow.
– Tooth development: interruptions when the tooth is forming can affect the
colour of the teeth when they come through and can include brown and
white spotting, or grey bands across the teeth.
–  Root canal treatment: can cause the inside of the tooth to darken.
In these types of cases, whitening products aren’t effective. A dentist needs to
manage them with more specialised treatments.

3. The teeth are worn down and damaged

Tooth-wear is another reason why teeth may appear more yellow. The outer layer of
the tooth is made of enamel, which is whiter and stronger than the inner layer,
dentine, which is more yellow. When the enamel layer is worn down, it becomes
thinner. Eventually the yellow colour of the dentine begins to show through making
the teeth appear more yellow. Common causes are frequently consuming acidic
food/drinks that contain things like lemons and oranges, or grinding the teeth.
What’s concerning for dentists is when products that contain citrus or abrasives
such as charcoal are publicly advertised to whiten teeth. While these might make
the teeth whiter initially, the loss of tooth structure is irreversible and the yellow
from the dentine will show through over time. If the teeth are worn down too much,
then dental treatment to rebuild the teeth such as veneers or crowns could be
required in order to achieve a white smile. This kind of treatment can be very
complex and expensive, but is also entirely preventable if signs of tooth wear are
caught early.

4. The products themselves aren’t effective

Whitening products that contain natural ingredients such as coconut oil might be
safe to use at home, but have no significant effect on tooth colour clinically. The
whitening agent dentists use to achieve a brighter shade of white is peroxide (either
carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide). In order for merchants to safely sell
peroxide-containing products over the counter, they have to be relatively low in
percentage, and are often not strong enough to achieve significant results.
Prescription strength whitening solution, which is more concentrated in peroxide, is
what truly delivers advancements up the shade scale. It’s important that this is done
under the care of a trained professional who can ensure the gums and soft tissues
are well protected and teeth sensitivity is well managed.

The bottom line

A brighter smile can make you look and feel like a superstar. However, you could
potentially be wasting time and money on over-the-counter whitening products that
aren’t effective, because the cause of discolouration hasn’t been diagnosed. Is it
because of extrinsic stain, intrinsic stain, tooth-wear, or are the products just not
effective? Beautiful whitening results that make you feel amazing are most effective
when taking a customised approach, and there’s no better person to do that than a