Do teeth whitening toothpaste actually work?

Does they actually whiten your teeth? The truth may shock you

Jian Kiat
3 min readNov 24, 2020

Recently, I have been seeing advertisements from my influencer friends and social media promoting the use of teeth whitening charcoal toothpaste. Promotion of such products mean that there is a demand for it. As a dental student, I just had to research on whether such teeth whitening toothpaste actually whitens teeth.

What gives your teeth its colour?

To understand whether the effectiveness of such teeth whitening toothpaste, we must first understand what gives your tooth its colour.

Whats inside your tooth; Picture credits to respective owners
  • Outer enamel layer: white, but very translucent
  • Inner dental layer: yellowish

This means that the colour of a tooth tends to be more heavily influenced by the inner dentine layer, thus it is natural for your tooth to look a bit yellowish.

How can your teeth be discoloured?

These teeth structure can be discoloured in 2 ways:

  1. Extrinsic stains: Surface stains caused by superficial factors like, food, smoking, etc
  2. Intrinsic stains: Stains on the internal structures of the tooth caused by more systemic factors such as: medication (some antibiotics), dead tooth, or defects that one is born with.

Purposes of toothpaste

Moving on, we must also understand the main purpose of toothpaste to know if it can whiten teeth.

Toothpastes are meant to prevent tooth decay by functioning as a tooth home topical fluoride application and to remove plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface. This means that toothpaste have some abrasive property, thus bringing about the concept of toothpaste abrasiveness

Toothpaste abrasiveness

Picture credits to respective owners

As you can see, most teeth whitening toothpastes are in the higher categories of abrasiveness!

But so what if your toothpaste is too abrasive?

What abrasive toothpaste can do to your teeth; picture credits to respective owners

Too abrasive a toothpaste can more easily damage your gums and erode away tooth structure, putting your teeth at risk of non-carious cervical lesions, or holes in the neck of your teeth. This compromises your tooth structure (it’s like chopping a tree!), and… what’s in your tooth? The dental pulp. This could potentially damage your dental pulp, putting the life of your tooth at risk.

Spot the difference; Picture credits to respective owner

So Imagine rubbing all the abrasive charcoal all over your teeth! (Not such a good idea)

Now you maybe wondering, how are teeth actually whitened clinically?

Dentists essential actually use H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide which is a very strong oxidising agent) to whiten teeth. In the context of a dead, discoloured tooth, hydrogen peroxide oxidises chromophores (coloured compounds which stain teeth black) to bring teeth back to a more natural shade of white. It is clinically known as ‘bleaching’.

So do seek professional advice at a dentist, if you’re interested in getting your teeth whitened.

If you want to whiten your teeth…

One thing to consider how white do you want your teeth to be? Do you want it to be as white as a toilet bowl? There’s such things as having teeth that are too white. Our dentine is naturally a bit yellowish and that’s just fine. Unless you’ve got teeth discolouration, personally I dont think teeth bleaching or whitening is needed.


Do teeth whitening toohpaste work? Yes they mainly do for extrinsic superficial surface stains. But they run the risk of damaging your gums and teeth as well due to their high abrasiveness, so be careful with those!

I actually explain things better in video, find the video version of this article here: bobbatov — YouTube