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Want to whiten teeth naturally? These whitening products are free of harsh chemicals.

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Whiter, brighter teeth are the dream. But if you prefer a vivid smile without using a lot of chemicals, it's tricky to figure out which natural teeth whitening products will actually deliver results. Here, everything you need to know to whiten your teeth naturally.

How to whiten teeth naturally

There are a few things to keep in mind before you set out to whiten your teeth using natural products (or any teeth whitening products, for that matter). The first is that not all tooth stains are the same, and certain over-the-counter treatments may lighten some stains but not others.

"Stains must be distinguished between intrinsic and extrinsic stains," says Nana Dickson, DDS, the dental health expert at Extrinsic stains are the result of plaque and tartar that have turned teeth darker over time (coffee, wine, soda, tea, and smoking are common culprits). Routine brushing, flossing, and at-home whitening treatments can help to lighten these stains, Dr. Dickson tells Health.

Intrinsic stains are trickier. "They're the ones inside your teeth," explains Dr. Dickson. "This type of staining can't be brushed away and if done at home, it takes a little while to see the results."

It's also important to note that because natural teeth whitening treatments are typically free of chemicals and contain lower levels of peroxide (if any at all), you shouldn't expect "celebrity-white teeth," as Dr. Dickson calls them. "To see true, drastic results, higher concentrations of peroxide are typically needed," she says. "At-home remedies will remove the brown surface stains and some of the black staining from coffee and tobacco, but you can't expect to see the total elimination of yellow stains."

If you have stubborn stains that don't improve with home remedies, see your dentist to find out if in-office treatments can help.

Natural teeth whitening ingredients

When shopping for "natural" teeth whitening treatments, you might spot these ingredients on the product label. Here's what you need to know about each. (Just make sure to speak to your dentist before adding any new ingredient into your regular teeth-cleaning routine so you know it's safe.)

• Hydrogen peroxide: One of the most common and effective whitening ingredients, "I would consider hydrogen peroxide to be natural because it is a simple molecule (H2O2) that is harmless in small amounts, like what you can buy at the drugstore," says Dr. Dickson. If you prefer not to use peroxide, however, the ingredients below are good alternatives.

• Baking soda: Although it doesn't help with intrinsic stains, baking soda "does a great job of breaking up and cleaning away surface stains," says Dr. Dickson. For this reason, it's often spotted in natural toothpastes. Anyone with high blood pressure should consult their doctor before using, however, because baking soda has high concentrations of sodium.

• Coconut oil: This wonder oil isn't just for your skin and hair! "Coconut oil has lauric acid, which is known to kill bacteria," says Dr. Dickson. "Some bacteria have byproducts that give off dark colors, so by eliminating them, teeth can look brighter."

• Strawberries: The brightly colored berries are packed with malic acid, which can help remove tooth discoloration.

• Charcoal: There's some controversy about this ingredient in oral care products. Used frequently, it may be too abrasive and could cause tooth enamel to thin out, notes Dr. Dickson. Still, she says it's OK for short-term use because "it does a good job of removing surface stains to reveal brighter teeth."

• Apple cider vinegar: This ingredient can have "a bleaching effect on the teeth," says Dr. Dickson. But it's highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel over time, so should be used very sparingly, she adds.

Below, a few of our favorite over-the-counter products that can help you whiten your teeth naturally.

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