Five teeth whitening myths, dispelled by the experts

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Viola Levy
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The world of teeth whitening can be tricky to navigate - luckily we’ve consulted the experts and busted a few of the biggest myths to save you time, money and potential enamel damage…

From avoiding red wine to drinking coffee through a straw, we’ve heard it all when it comes to keeping our teeth pearly white.

And what with the avalanche of new teeth whitening products and treatments bursting onto the scene daily, it’s never been more difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. 

Charcoal toothpaste or oil pulling? And are home whitening kits as safe as some companies make out?

Stylist asked the experts to give us the lowdown on the teeth whitening myths that we all really need to stop believing…

1. Active charcoal is the best way to whiten teeth

Charcoal has been touted around the industry as the ingredient ‘du jour’ for its supposed formidable detoxing prowess. 

But, as Dr Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling Clinic warns, “Charcoal can be very abrasive - bear in mind it’s considered a ‘natural’ way to clean pots and pans! Everyone always advocates applying it with a toothbrush, but if you are going to use it, then just use your finger to apply it as it’s gentler.”

“Better still, use a proper whitening toothpaste – of which not all are created equal. I recommend Oral B’s whitening pastes because they have a double pronged effect. They remove stains and also seal teeth, which helps prevent new stains.”

2. Whitening toothpastes are the safest option

Unfortunately, that’s just not true. 

“Some are too abrasive and if they wear away the outer enamel of teeth, it exposes the inner dentine which is more yellow and more likely to be sensitive,” Dr Okoye explains. “Ask your dentist to recommend one that is best for you.”

3. Oil pulling can remove stains

Oil pulling is the ancient Ayurvedic practise of swishing a tablespoon of oil around your mouth for 20 minutes, which is said to remove stains and toxins – supposedly leading to whiter teeth.

But as Dr Okoye warns, “There is no research showing it has any positive benefits. Some say the oil keeps soft tissues of the mouth moist (but that’s what natural saliva is there for), others say it draws out the germs but I’m very skeptical of that and, as a scientist, there’s no research confirming this.”

In terms of oral hygiene, Orthodontic Specialist Dr Asif Chatoo believes oil pulling does have some benefits, but regular brushing is paramount. “Lab studies have shown that edible oils such as sesame coconut and sunflower oil have antibacterial properties and tea tree oil may help gingivitis. There are no known significant harmful side effects of using these edible oils as a mouthwash.

However, oil pulling cannot and should not be a substitute for a good brushing and flossing regime or regular visits to a dentist and hygienist. Any delays in going to the dentist may make a potential problem worse.”

Is teeth whitening safe? Stylist asked the experts…

4. Teeth whitening is permanent

If you’re forking out on professional whitening, bear in mind that you might need top up sessions. 

According to The Oral Health Foundation, “The effects of whitening are thought to last up to three years. However, this will vary from person to person.” Dr Chatoo adds, “Whitening is very unlikely to last forever”. 

However, once whitened, you can try and limit food and drinks that will stain your teeth – like tea, coffee, curries and red wine. Smoking is the worst offender. If you have stained teeth because you smoke, you would be advised to give up smoking before having your teeth whitened.”

5. Home whitening kits are just as effective as professional treatments

According to The Oral Health Foundation, “Regulations covering home kits vary from country to country. Kits sold in Europe cannot legally contain more than 0.1% peroxide and this is too little to be effective. In other countries where stronger peroxide is allowed, home whitening is more common. But you need to be careful as some kits sold over the internet may contain mild acids and abrasives.”

And of course you should never leave a treatment on longer than instructed - Ross from Friends should serve as a warning…

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