Baking soda is a common and inexpensive home remedy for cleaning teeth, and is useful as a whitening agent to treat dental stains related to drinking coffee, tea or using tobacco products. Some commercial dentifrices -- agents used to polish and clean teeth -- even contain baking soda to help improve their action. The use of vinegar is touted to add whitening power or disinfectant action to the baking soda, however caution is needed since the enamel that protects the teeth can be damaged by prolonged contact with acidic substances such as vinegar.
Role of Toothpaste
According to the American Dental Association, a main purpose of toothpaste is to remove plaque -- a thin layer of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. Toothpaste may also contain fluoride to protect your teeth from erosion and decay, along with whitening ingredients and components that reduce tooth sensitivity. Toothpaste formulations often contain an abrasive to help the toothbrush scrub plaque away, along with ingredients to provide flavor and help clean the teeth. Many brands of toothpaste already contain some baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, as this substance works as an mild abrasive and a stain remover.
Research supports the value of sodium bicarbonate, although this research has been completed on dental products containing baking soda and not baking soda alone. A January 2008 report published in “The Journal of Clinical Dentistry” reviewed 5 clinical studies comparing toothpastes with and without baking soda, and found that the baking soda toothpaste consistently removed more plaque. A January 1998 article in “The Journal of Clinical Dentistry” compared 3 toothpastes used in twice-daily brushing for a period of 12 weeks, and identified the products containing baking soda to be more effective at removing stains and whitening teeth. Finally, a study reported in the July 2001 issue of "Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry" showed that the use of a baking soda chewing gum -- for 20 minutes twice daily for 4 weeks --reduced dental stains by almost 30 percent compared to a placebo gum that did not contain baking soda.
Vinegar is known to kill bacteria and is touted to whiten teeth and prevent the buildup of tartar -- hard deposits on teeth that contribute to decay. Mixing vinegar with baking soda is also a home remedy for cleaning and whitening teeth. Apple cider vinegar in particular is claimed to aid in dental health, but surprisingly little quality research exists to confirm these benefits. Vinegar is an acidic substance that can eat away at the enamel -- the outer layer on the teeth -- and cleaning or rinsing the teeth with straight vinegar may cause damage. Protecting the enamel is important to prevent tooth erosion, tooth sensitivity and discoloration, so be talk to your dentist if you want to try this home remedy.
If you choose to brush your teeth with baking soda, just a small amount of product is needed. Simply wet the toothbrush and dip it into a small amount of baking soda -- the wet toothbrush will pick up enough of the baking soda for an effective cleaning. Alternatively, if your dentist approves, a few drops of vinegar could be added to the baking soda to make a paste. Another option is to add baking soda to your toothpaste, or to use a baking soda toothpaste. The brushing action is an important factor in effective cleaning, so brushing thoroughly for 2 minutes is recommended. Rinsing your mouth with water is an important final step, and essential if any vinegar is used.
Baking soda is known to be effective at cleaning and whitening teeth, however some people may experience a burning sensation when using this product. Discuss the use of any home dental treatments with your dentist. It's particularly important to talk to your dentist before using baking soda if you wear braces or dentures, or if you have gum disease or sensitive teeth. The use of vinegar risks erosion of tooth enamel, so either avoid using this substance to care for your teeth, or discuss the cautious use with your dentist. If you are not using a fluoride-containing product to rinse your mouth or clean your teeth, your teeth may be at greater risk of erosion and decay, so discuss a fluoride protection plan with your dentist.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD