Baking soda is the ultimate multi-hyphenate. It’s a stain remover, toilet bowl/garbage disposal/sneaker deodoriser, drain un-clogger, fabric softener, inflammation fighter, skincare savior, perfect-hard-boiled-egg maker, and even an embarrassing-tan-line eliminator, among other things.
So, it can definitely be used as a teeth whitener, because it’s good at everything, and because Julia Roberts (the smile) says so. Right?
Sort of. “Baking soda acts to remove stains and whiten teeth by scrubbing the enamel surfaces with more abrasive particles,” says Inna Chern, DDS, a New York City-based dentist. “It is effective in removing superficial stains from teeth but not the ones that get embedded in deeper aspects of the tooth structure.” Okay, fine, but do we really care about the stains no one can see but our dentist? I mean, Julia Roberts has made an icon out of her surface-level shine.
Unfortunately, the dentist caveats don’t stop at superficiality. Both Dr. Chern and Lawrence Fung, DDS, a cosmetic dentist based in Los Angeles, caution that unregulated amounts of baking soda can cause damage to the teeth. “Baking soda is actually not the best idea [for whitening], because on the abrasive chart it can be higher leading to more tooth/enamel wear with modest whitening results,” says Dr. Fung. Chern adds that it can also cause changes in oral mucosa, the delicate tissue of the cheek and gums.
Both dentists say to be wary of using a pure baking soda paste or, like Roberts’ grandfather, just dumping a bunch of the white stuff on your brush and calling it a day. “While I don’t like to say something is wrong per se, I warn people to steer clear of using baking soda alone because of its abrasiveness and ability to disrupt the delicate oral environment,” says Dr. Chern.
If you’re wondering whether or not actual store-bought toothpastes which contain baking soda are also a bad idea, Dr. Chern offers assurances. “You can’t go wrong using an American Dental Association-approved toothpaste, as ADA products go through extensive testing to rule out harmful side effects,” she says. There are caveats to this advice as well, however (aka you can go wrong, technically.) “Patients that should avoid whitening toothpaste are those who have gum recession, sensitive teeth, or tooth discoloration that is too dark or genetic in origin,” says Dr. Fung.
The best option, both say, is to go pro for what Dr. Fung calls “minimally-invasive whitening treatments.” They also recommend preventing the yellowing of teeth by eating fibrous foods, getting regular teeth cleanings every four to six months. What Julia Roberts does may work for her, but its most important to adhere to your dentist’s advice if you want a megawatt smile of your own.