We examine Teeth Whitening trends

Smiling releases endorphins1 to our brain which boosts our mood and happiness – in fact, when we smile, others see us as being younger than we are2. So, having white teeth not only improves self-confidence, but boosts other people’s perception of us as well.

Often the colour or appearance of teeth prevents people from smiling, so even the smallest of cosmetic changes can make a difference in how they feel about their smile.

It’s probably no surprise that teeth whitening has become one of the most commonly asked for dental procedures1. We now see hundreds of products on the market with claims to whiten and brighten your smile. But how do we separate fact from fad? And how are the cheaper solutions so… cheap?

We did some research and took a closer look at some of the more popular alternative methods of teeth whitening.

Oil Pulling

A teaspoon of coconut oil is swished around the mouth for 20 minutes on an empty stomach before it is ‘pulled’ and forced between the teeth. Research into oil pulling is not extensive4,5,6 but what little we do know doesn’t give us any proof that it helps to whiten teeth. Oil pulling has its roots in ancient India as an Ayurvedic practice, where natural ingredients are used to heal the body.

Pros: May reduce gum inflammation and bacteria levels.

Cons: Oil pulling takes a long time and is highly dependant on the actual technique – you’ll see better results with just an ordinary toothbrush and toothpaste!

Tooth whitening: There is no evidence to show that oil pulling reduces staining on teeth.

Activated Charcoal

Charcoal toothpastes are plastered all over social media of late, so chances are you’ve come across charcoal toothpaste promising to give you that gleaming white smile at a fraction of the cost of having your teeth professionally whitened. While charcoal toothpaste may lift superficial surface stains, they won’t make a difference to deep stains or for teeth that are naturally yellowed. One study by Creighton University School of Dentistry in the US found that extended use of charcoal toothpaste resulted in a significant loss of enamel7. As the toothpaste made its way into the dentin of the teeth used in the experiment, they adopted a grey shade – the opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve when whitening your teeth!

Pros: May help to remove some surface stain and delay the recurrence of stains.

Cons: Doesn’t contain fluoride and may cause staining or greying around existing fillings or crevices.

Tooth whitening: There is no evidence to show it whitens the teeth from the inside.

Spices, fruit and… bicarb soda.

Brushing your teeth with turmeric, whitening your teeth with strawberries, brightening your teeth with bicarb soda… do a quick Google search and you’ll open up a whole world of natural remedies said to provide miracle brightening and whitening. While turmeric tooth-brushing probably won’t do you any harm – after all, it’s a well-known antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory spice – it certainly won’t give you a whiter smile. Unfortunately it’s the same story for strawberries and bicarb soda. A 2015 study8 from the University of Iowa looked at the effects of using a mix of strawberry and bicarb on teeth, 3 times a day over 10 days. The study found that while the mixture did remove surface plaque and debris, giving the illusion of a whiter smile, it didn’t actually bleach or whiten.

Pros: May reduce gum inflammation and bacteria levels.

Cons: Can be costly when strawberries aren’t in season.

Tooth whitening: There isn’t any evidence to show that it whitens teeth.

Shopping Centre Pop-ups, tooth whitening strips and kits

The teeth whitening industry is largely unregulated, and a variety of options including whitening strips and mail order trays have popped up in recent years. An investigation by Choice magazine found that potential hazards associated with going to an unqualified practitioner include “lack of proper infection control, careless application or ill-fitting bleaching trays, causing irritation to gums and lips”.

Seeing your dentist for a whitening procedure may cost more, but the difference is noticeable. Firstly, dentists are able to use up to 38% hydrogen peroxide (compared to 6% – the maximum allowance for non-registered dentists in a clinical setting). Your dentist is also able to assess the quality of your teeth, potential problems or disease that could be exacerbated by whitening, and provide you with custom-fitted trays which ensure the bleach stays on your teeth. It may not be the cheap, quick fix you were hoping for but in the long run, it’s much better for you, and way more effective.

Pros: A cheaper alternative to in-chair whitening treatment.

Cons: Unknown ingredients, risk of increased sensitivity or chemical burns to the gums.

Tooth whitening: Might produce some whitening effect, however safety remains a concern.


nib Dental Care centres offer teeth whitening services to patients. Please be aware that cosmetic treatments like teeth whitening aren’t covered by health insurance. To book an appointment to discuss teeth whitening with your dentist, book online or phone your nearest centre on 1300 345 300.



  1. https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/famelab-whats-science-behind-smile
  2. Hass NC, Weston TD, Lim S-L (2016) Be Happy Not Sad for Your Youth: The Effect of Emotional Expression on Age Perception. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0152093.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152093
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1532338214000499
  4. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review J Tradit Complement Med. 2017 Jan; 7(1): 106–109. PMCID: PMC5198813 Published online 2016 Jun 6. doi: 1016/j.jtcme.2016.05.004
  5. Essential oil mouthwash (EOMW) may be equivalent to chlorhexidine (CHX) for long-term control of gingival inflammation but CHX appears to perform better than EOMW in plaque control.J Evid Based Dent Pract.2012 Sep;12(3 Suppl):69-72. doi: 10.1016/S1532-3382(12)70017-9
  6. Effect of oil pulling in promoting oro dental hygiene: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complement Ther Med.2016 Jun;26:47-54. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.02.011. Epub 2016 Feb 20. Gbinigie O1Onakpoya I2Spencer E3McCall MacBain M4 Heneghan C5
  7. Charcoal toothpastes: what we know so far. Linda Greenwall, Pharmaceutical Journal
  8. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cosmetic-dentistry/teeth-whitening/strawberry-teeth-whitening-and-other-weird-whitening-methods-0117