Trends come and go, but a pearly white smile is one thing that will never go out of style. Unfortunately, life tends to get in the way and factors like that must-have morning cup of coffee or the ever-so-tempting evening glass of red wine can eventually lead to stained or yellow teeth. So, how does one fix this almost-inevitable problem? If eliminating half of your liquid intake doesn't sound like the ideal solution, maybe teeth whitening does.
Baking soda is a popular go-to when it comes to removing stains from the surface of your teeth, but is it safe? We asked dentists Wesam Shafee, DMD, and Amanda Lewis, DMD. Read on for their takes.
Meet the Expert
What Is Baking Soda?
Baking soda, formally known as sodium bicarbonate, is the monosodium salt of carbonic acid with alkalinizing and electrolyte replacement properties. Beyond its scientific definition, baking soda is a household staple, often found in your refrigerator collecting odors. It can also be used for cleaning and unclogging, and of course, baking.
So where do teeth come into play? File this under the cleaning category. While long-term teeth whitening is not technically achievable with baking soda, it can help with topical staining or yellowing on the teeth. "Baking soda is great for surface stains," says Lewis. "As far as whitening, whitening occurs from the inside out."
Is It Safe to Whiten Your Teeth With Baking Soda?
Before getting into the safety logistics of baking soda for teeth, Lewis again emphasizes off the bat: The "important thing to know about whitening with baking soda—you’re only removing surface stains. If you really want to whiten the teeth, it has to be done from the inside out at a dentist’s office with bleach."
Understanding that baking soda does not technically whiten teeth, the question of whether or not it's safe to use is still a valid one. "Yes and no," says Shafee. "Yes, baking soda can help remove stains and yellowing since it's mildly abrasive. So if it is used not so frequently, like once a week and not for long periods of time, it can be considered safe. [But] it can still damage your enamel and cause it to get worn down. If it is used daily and frequently or if it is combined with lemon juice—like some people do—it can be even more damaging."
While the risk of enamel damage is present, when used in proper proportions, baking soda is not something to be scared of. "I brush with baking soda every single morning," says Lewis. "When I talk about toothpaste with patients, we look at an abrasivity scale, and you want to have things less than 50 on that scale. There are some whitening toothpastes that are abrasive enough to cause damage to your enamel. Baking soda is a seven on the abrasivity scale; it’s effective at cleaning and it’s not harmful to enamel. Overuse of any product can be harmful."
When used properly, studies say that baking soda gets the thumbs up for temporary stain removal. The low abrasivity of dentifrices containing baking soda allows for it to be generally safe in oral hygiene regimens. Researchers also reported that in spite of its low abrasivity, these same dentifrices containing baking soda are debatably more effective in stain removal than some non-baking soda-containing products that have a higher abrasivity to teeth.
Who Should Avoid Whitening Their Teeth With Baking Soda?
Wondering if baking soda is the right choice for you? Our experts share a few tips to consider prior to adding baking soda into your routine. "Anyone with sensitive teeth, anyone with worn-down teeth, and anyone with inflamed gums [should avoid baking soda]," notes Shafee. "Avoid using baking soda if you have a heavily restricted sodium intake," adds Lewis.
How to Whiten Your Teeth With Baking Soda
Once you've consulted a dentist and confirmed that stain removal and brushing with baking soda is safe for your teeth, understanding how to properly do so is the next step to success.
Both experts recommend creating a DIY paste at home with two simple ingredients: water and baking soda. "One way is to mix a tablespoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl until the consistency becomes pasty," says Shafee. "Brush with this paste gently. After 2 minutes, rinse thoroughly with water. Arm & Hammer [also has a toothpaste range] that is baking soda-based and can do the job." Studies back up that Arm & Hammer is effective at removing extrinsic tooth stains, and it can typically be found at any local grocery or convenience store often making it a go-to for many. "I would also alternate that with a toothpaste with fluoride at night," adds Lewis.
The Final Takeaway
As we embark on the journey in pursuit of a white smile, it's important to note that both experts have made one thing clear: Baking soda will not whiten your teeth.
"In general, whitening with baking soda does not last as long as whitening professionally with different products such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide sodium," confirms Shafee. "Baking soda's mechanism of action for whitening is abrading the outer layer of the teeth, so with the intake of substances the can discolor the teeth such as coffee, tea, red wine and some kinds of foods, the teeth will go back to being discolored. Whitening professionally is not abrasive and tends to whiten the teeth from within and this tends to last longer."
With this, experts conclude that when used properly baking soda is non-abrasive, but professional whitening runs a lower risk of damaging or wearing down enamel. "Know that [baking soda for removing stains] can work but be mindful not to overdo it," concludes Shafee.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 516892, Sodium bicarbonate. 2022.
Ghassemi A, Hooper W, Vorwerk L, Domke T, DeSciscio P, Nathoo S. Effectiveness of a new dentifrice with baking soda and peroxide in removing extrinsic stain and whitening teeth. J Clin Dent. 2012;23(3):86-91.