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How to Whiten Teeth Without Damaging Your Tooth Enamel

9 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Your teeth are the strongest substances in your body — even stronger than bone! Yet, as tough as they are, they’re still exposed to daily wear and tear that can stain and damage the enamel.

Staining and discoloration cause your pearly whites to slowly morph into more of a yellow or brown shade. This problem is so widespread that the teeth whitening industry is worth nearly 7 billion dollars. 

Yes, we spend a lot of money trying to get our teeth back to that coveted white shade. But not all of the products out there are legitimate and safe for your enamel. You could be fixing the color of your teeth while inadvertently creating damage under the surface.

So how do you combat the problem of staining without causing more problems? 

This guide shows you how to whiten your teeth safely without damaging your enamel — and what to stay away from on your search for that dazzling smile you deserve.

First, Learn Why Your Teeth Are Changing Colors

When you see the first teeth crowning through the gums of a small child, they’re the fresh, ivory white of untouched enamel. Yours were the same shade at one point. What happened over the years to turn them into the hues they are now?

Discoloration comes from a variety of factors. No matter what’s causing the staining, it’s either intrinsic or extrinsic. Next, we’ll explain these two categories to help you recognize the reason behind your teeth's colors. From there, you can take the first steps on your whitening journey.

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Staining

You can remember the meaning of the word intrinsic by linking it to the inside (or internal) parts of your teeth. These types of stains get into the inner layer of your tooth, called dentin, and could mean oral health problems like tooth decay.

Intrinsic discoloration happens from the inside out because of something going on in your body during the teeth development process. You might have had an injury to your mouth or overexposure to fluoride. Intrinsic stains are also common side effects of some medications, like tetracycline.

Structure of tooth [JS Dental]

This kind of staining is more challenging to fix than its counterpart, extrinsic. These external (outside) stains aren’t usually more than surface-deep in your enamel. Extrinsic stains are caused by everyday habits like eating, drinking, poor dental habits, and tobacco use. 

Surface stains are usually easily fixed with the whitening treatments we’ll delve into next. When they go beneath the surface, though, you’ll need to look into the professional options (more on those later). 

If you’re still not sure what kind of tooth stains you have, talk to your dentist. It should only take a quick exam to point you in the right direction for your ideal teeth whitening methods.

Natural Ways to Get Whiter Teeth

In the meantime, changing your daily habits is a healthy way to get a white smile without any outside help. Just as your regular routine contributed to those surface stains, it can remove them, too.

Watch What You Eat and Drink

Yellow teeth don’t happen naturally. They result from eating certain foods and drinking beverages with chromogens, tannins, and acids. These three compounds increase the chances of stained enamel; the more you ingest them, the greater your surface stains become.

On the other hand, switching your diet to avoid those kinds of staining ingredients slows down discoloration. And there are some foods that are known as teeth whiteners. Yes, just eating these items can remove those surface stains.

You know the main one from an old adage: An apple a day keeps the dentist away. Apples (and celeries and carrots) increase saliva production, which washes away bacteria. The crunchy parts scrub away light stains gently.

Dairy products with lactic acid in them strengthen your teeth and protect them from decay. Eating yogurt a few times a week defends your enamel from cavity-causing acids, and hard cheese can whiten your teeth by removing food particles. The calcium in dairy strengthens your enamel, too, making it a good choice for your general teeth health.

One more food to add to your whitening diet is strawberries. The main enzyme in them, malic acid, can brighten your enamel. Eat them regularly, or mash them and use them as a tooth mask for five minutes.

Just Say No to Tobacco

Using tobacco products will quickly stain your teeth. If you’re hooked on nicotine, we understand that quitting is not easy. But if you can find a way to reduce your nicotine and tar intake and increase your dental hygiene habits, you’ll see a marked difference in the color of your enamel.

Enamel is made up of microscopic pores. The nicotine and tar seep into those pores. Nicotine and oxygen make the teeth look yellow, and the tar causes a brown shade. However, if you catch it early enough before decay sets in, those discolorations can be fixed at the surface. 

Changing your habits will prevent stains from worsening. For those stubborn surface issues, a little more help might be necessary, and you might be able to get whiter teeth without leaving your home!

Did braces stain your teeth? Read 4 REAL Ways to Remove Braces Stains! 

At-Home Whiteners for Surface Stain Removal

At home whiteners for surface stains

The teeth whitening industry is worth seven billion dollars and is projected to continue to grow. Manufacturers of these products keep up with the trends, and today’s society wants a solution they can use at home.

You see this economic theory play out in department store aisles. It’s easy to find toothpaste, mouthwash, whitening strips, and other products geared toward home use. Depending on the ingredients and your staining level, you may be able to find some of these products are effective.

There are risks that come with using some tooth-whitening bleaching agents, though. No matter what product you use, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid side effects like increased sensitivity in your teeth and gums and tooth surface damage.

Whitening Products and How They Work

At-home teeth whitening treatments vary in the way they’re designed. But they all use a whitening agent to give you that brighter smile. That’s the part you need to look at as you’re deciding what kind of whitener to put in your mouth.

Many products, like gel trays and whitening strips, use ingredients such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide to lighten your teeth. These are safe for your gums and enamel in small amounts — as long as they’re high-quality chemicals and used as directed.

Both ingredients are chemicals that can increase tooth sensitivity. Studies show that using at-home bleaching kits increases this risk, even with lower-dose peroxide. 

This is due in part to users not following directions thoroughly and keeping the whitener in contact with the enamel for too long. However, it can also come from using the wrong whitener for your mouth. 

Gel Trays, Whitening Strips, and Toothpaste

Be cautious about using over-the-counter gel tray whitening kits. The trays that go over the surface of your teeth are designed to be one-size-fits-all, so the bleaching agent doesn’t always reach the nooks and crannies in your enamel. The whitening gel spreads in the tray, covering your gums and irritating the sensitive tissue there.

Gel trays from professionals, such as JS Dental Lab’s custom gel kit, are made from molds of your smile. When you use them, you know you’re getting professional-grade ingredients that will hit all your unique teeth angles and avoid touching the gum tissue unnecessarily.

Teeth whitening strips work similarly to gel trays, but the gel is on the strip. These are easier to work with, but those strips don’t get in the hard-to-reach surface areas to give you evenly white teeth.

Whitening toothpaste is another home whitening option. These products use special abrasives that polish the teeth and remove surface stains, as well as a bleaching agent that dissolves the stains. Whitening toothpaste can take up to six weeks to give you a whiter smile.

Keep in mind that the abrasive that whitens your teeth can also increase your enamel’s sensitivity if you use it long-term. Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance for the safest and most effective options. Consider switching back to your regular cleaner if you notice any teeth or gum irritation.

Oil Pulling

Throughout your search for the best ways to whiten your teeth, you’ll come across something called oil pulling. If you’re like most of us, you’re asking yourself what in the world this method is and if it could possibly work.

This technique uses certain oils to remove bacteria buildup by stimulating your saliva production, and it’s gentle enough for sensitive teeth. In the morning, during your oral care routine, you swish the oil as you would your mouthwash. 

The oil “pulls” the debris and microorganisms out of your mouth for the next 15-20 minutes, after which you spit the leftovers into the garbage.

It’s a newer idea in the Western world, but oil pulling has been around in India and other Eastern countries for thousands of years. You can use coconut, olive, or sesame oil, although the Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine and other studies claim coconut oil is the most effective for whitening. 

Learn more: Whitening Solutions for Sensitive Teeth

Professional Whitening Treatments for Stubborn Stains

Sometimes, your stains are deep enough that at-home oil pulling and whiteners don’t get the job done. For more stubborn or intrinsic staining, your dentist may have the solution.

In-office professional whitening at the dentist isn’t always about bleaching agents. In fact, you can get similar results with the right at-home products, like JS Dental Lab’s custom-fitted gel trays.

But when you’re dealing with discoloration caused by years of heavy bad habits or intrinsic issues, whitening agents don’t always work. Instead, cosmetic dentistry procedures can cover up discolored teeth.

Dental Veneers

When you have a tooth or two that you’re not happy with, dental veneers could be the best way to cover up those imperfections. 

These wafer-thin shells bond to the front surface of a tooth, perfectly sliding over cracks, stains, chips, and discolorations. They’re one of the most commonly performed cosmetic dentistry treatments and are available in multiple options to fit many budgets.

When a veneer is applied, the dentist removes a thin sliver of enamel from the tooth’s surface. The veneer is shaped and colored to match the surrounding teeth, then adhered to the tooth with a bonding agent. How long the veneer lasts depends on whether you choose porcelain or composite as your material and how well you care for your teeth.

Composite Bonding

Another way to conceal discolored teeth or other concerns is to opt for composite dental bonding. This procedure uses composite resin (similar to caulk) shaded to match the color of the surrounding enamel. Your dentist fills in the damaged or discolored areas with the resin.

Because it’s less intensive than veneers, it’s also cheaper. Depending on the severity of your complaints, you may not need any enamel shaved or prep work. The dentist shapes the putty material over the problem area. When it dries, it gets sanded down, and the end result is indistinguishable from your natural teeth.

The dental bonding procedure can be completed in one visit, while the veneer process takes a series of visits from start to finish.

Whitening Methods to Avoid

The internet is an amazing resource for DIY at-home remedies, like oil pulling. Yet, when it comes to whitening your teeth, there are some often suggested ideas that experts recommend you avoid.

If you come across these natural whitening ideas, keep on scrolling:

  • Lemon and Baking Soda - The baking soda will whiten your teeth, but lemon juice is acidic and extremely corrosive to the enamel.
  • Activated Charcoal - Although this is a popular trend, activated charcoal is highly abrasive. Using products with this ingredient on your teeth can damage the enamel and cause tooth and gum erosion.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar - Apple cider vinegar (ACV) whitening treatments have been around for years and have been damaging teeth for just as long. Apples are great for whitening, but ACV is highly acidic and corrosive to your enamel.

One last word of caution refers to those kiosk whitening treatments that pop up in malls across the country. The idea is a good one: whiten your teeth and remove stains on the go. However, the staff applying the agents are not trained in proper techniques and can cause damage to your soft tissue and enamel.

See more: JS Dental Lab’s teeth whitening spray and accessories


Taking care of your teeth to keep them white goes beyond basic brushing and flossing. What you put in your body matters, and your food and tobacco habits can discolor enamel over time.

Luckily, there are high-quality teeth whitening products, like JS Dental Lab’s whitening trays, to help you get back your sparkling ivories. 

Use these tips to change your habits, stick to healthy oral hygiene routines, and avoid whitening tricks that damage the enamel. You’ll have a smile you’re proud to show off in no time!

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