Most of the health advice I’ve gleaned from TikTok has been, at worst, harmless bullshit. Usually, people on TikTok are encouraging me to lay on a rolled up towel for 10 minutes a day or drink chlorophyll, neither of which really do… anything. When it comes to taking care of your teeth, though, the stakes are a bit higher. You really don’t wanna screw them up, and if you do, the effects are pretty much immediately noticeable. At the same time, dentistry is freaking expensive. It makes sense that people want to take matters into their own hands, especially with something cosmetic like teeth whitening. On TikTok, there are tons of videos of people swishing hydrogen peroxide with water in their mouths, or even applying it directly to their teeth. It looks like it works, but is it actually safe?
As many of these TikToks mention, hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in most whitening products, whether they be over-the-counter or the kind used in dental offices. But that doesn’t mean the brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide you might have collecting dust in your bathroom is exactly what you should be using.
Nammy Patel, a San Francisco dentist and author of Age With Style: Your Guide to A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living and The A-Z Guide to Holistic Dentistry, does endorse the careful use of hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening and oral health. In Holistic Dentistry, she recommends adding a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to a water-filled Waterpik and flossing with it in order to kill off bacteria that can cause gum disease.
However, most of these TikTok videos call for direct application of the hydrogen peroxide, or at least far less diluted quantities. “This can cause severe gum damage, burning the gums and causing gum recession,” says Patel. “It can lead to tooth loss, damage the enamel and make the tooth very sensitive. Some of the people you see doing this on social media are using hydrogen peroxide purchased online that has many times the amount allowed in regulated online teeth-whitening products.”
For example, one of the most popular videos features someone filling a shot glass half-full with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, filling the rest with water, then swishing. Other videos, however, show people using 6 or 9 percent hydrogen peroxide because they can’t find 3 percent, or applying the hydrogen peroxide directly to their teeth or toothbrushes.
Swishing with diluted 3 percent hydrogen peroxide is relatively safe in moderation, and can indeed kill off bacteria. Repeated use or using higher concentrations, however, can lead to the type of gum irritation Patel warns against.
A couple of final thoughts then: First, anything that causes an extra trip to the dentist should definitely be avoided right now; and second, hydrogen peroxide might be cheap, but the dental work you’ll need to fix your gums isn’t.