Turmeric, a golden yellow spice popular in Indian cuisine and a long-used natural remedy in ancient Eastern systems of medicine, is, well, everywhere. (And rightly so, since it’s packed with a powerful antioxidant called curcumin.)
Yep, Pinterest junkies and DIY beauty lovers are slathering the brightly-colored spice all over their chompers to whiten them. Here’s how it works, according to the many ‘experts’ of the internet: Mix two parts ground turmeric with one part coconut oil (and sometimes one part baking soda, too), brush your teeth with the paste for two minutes—and voila—(potentially) pearlier whites.
So, is this a fad or is turmeric a long lost cousin of Colgate? Well, according to a review published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, turmeric does possess some oral health potential: Both turmeric water rinses and turmeric paste have been used in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine for minor mouth maladies, like irritated gums. And a 2015 study published in the International Quarterly Journal of Ayurveda found that turmeric gel supported gum and oral health.
However, while the antioxidants in turmeric might support healthy gums, the only ingredient in this mixture that bears any real whitening potential is the baking soda, says Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., program director of advanced aesthetics in dentistry at NYU School of Dentistry. “Sodium bicarbonate [that’s baking soda] is a great ingredient for the mouth,” he says. “It’s not very abrasive and won’t scratch teeth, can deodorize the mouth, and lift some of the stains off of teeth.” Turmeric, though? There’s very little research to support its whitening powers, Levine says. Womp.
Facts aside, I still had to try it for myself—if just to compare it to brushing with activated charcoal…
I wouldn’t call my teeth yellow—I don’t miss a millimeter when I brush, and I floss pretty much every day. But I would call my teeth dull. Perfectly meh—a lameness that seems especially obvious against my translucent-pale complexion.
So I raided the kitchen to make my own turmeric teeth-whitening paste. I mixed turmeric, baking soda, and coconut oil in a small bowl and headed to the bathroom. Here goes nothing. I dipped my toothbrush into my golden paste, and got to work.
The mixture was pretty gloppy (more like mud than paste) and the smell of it hit me before my brush even touched my teeth. My minty toothpaste-accustomed taste buds were surprised by the savory flavor. Definitely weird—not unpleasant, though.
I glanced in the mirror: My teeth were a frightening mustard color. I kept brushing, with golden goop dripping into the sink and oozing out of the corners of my mouth. Ew. What a mess.
When my two minutes were up, I spit out the turmeric paste and rinsed my mouth with water. It took four rounds of swishing to wash everything out. I spent a minute or two scrubbing my sink (which is white) to get rid of the faint orangey hue the paste had left behind. I tried washing it out of my toothbrush, but that turmeric tint was going nowhere—so I just accepted the fact that the bristles would be permanently stained. Another place the turmeric color lingered? The corners of my mouth. Two little patches of jaundiced-looking yellow—how cute. So began round three of scrubbing. Luckily, the color disappeared with a wet paper towel and a little elbow grease.
But my teeth! After all that, I inspected the final result: bright and shiny. They felt squeaky clean and perhaps looked even a little bit whiter. This skeptic was quite surprised—though I knew my sparkly-looking smile was likely thanks to the baking soda, not the golden turmeric.
I won’t be making this a new nightly ritual, but I’d certainly try it again…on a rainy day when I’ve got some time on my hands for clean-up.
As long as you are still on top of your usual brushing and flossing routine and checking in with the pros regularly, using a DIY treatment every so often (like once a week or so) can be totally safe for your mouth, says Levine. For optimal at-home whitening, he recommends brushing with a mixture of baking soda in diluted hydrogen peroxide (one part peroxide, one part water) once a week. “Hydroxide is the only true teeth whitener, because it oxidizes the surface of the tooth,” Levine explains.