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Does Rubbing Alcohol Whiten Teeth?

Rubbing alcohol will not whiten teeth because it can only remove inorganic stains which is not the same as organic stains that yellow our teeth. In other words it can whiten but not for dental/oral purposes...


91% isopropyl alcohol

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Can rubbing alcohol whiten your teeth?

It is unproven that rubbing alcohol will whiten your teeth and there aren't any scientific studies about it either. In fact there are no mentions about its teeth whitening potential by the American Dental Association (ADA) at all.


The ADA states that extrinsic stains can be mechanically removed with abrasives in whitening toothpastes. The intrinsic stains needs to be chemically oxidized by hydrogen peroxide which is found in most OTC and professional products.


Then they go on to talk about how home remedies don't work and could be dangerous such as with oil pulling and brushing with strawberries. Unfortunately, the use of rubbing alcohol didn't even make it onto the list of do-nots.


In summary, there is no evidence to support the alleged claim that isopropyl alcohol can make your teeth whiter. In case you were wondering where this idea came from, rubbing alcohol can in fact remove stains but not the ones that we want.


Common sense observations

If alcohol had the ability to whiten teeth, we believe that alcoholics would have the whitest teeth in the world. Unfortunately we do not see hollywood white teeth from those suffering from alcoholism. That is a common sense example of why this doesn't really work.


A lot of times cosmetic products come from simple observations from daily living. One such instance is SK-II where researchers noticed that sake brewers had incredibly soft hands from being immersed in sake. They applied the same concept to making skin care products!



Unfortunately the same cannot be said about alcohol and white teeth. We just don't see those who drink more of it having whiter teeth.


Rubbing alcohol removes the wrong type of stains

Rubbing alcohol can remove ink stains from clothing and your favorite laundry detergent maker, TIDE has an article about it. According to them the isopropyl alcohol will "dilute the stain" and make it wash off easier.


Here is also a video of a demonstration of using it to remove an ink stain from a pen:


This is a well known home remedy because sometimes pens can spontaneously burst or leak while in the pen pocket. The end result is an unsightly ink blotch near the chest pocket of your shirt.


The reason why alcohol based products can remove ink stains is because pen ink contains alcohol. To be more precise, the dye is usually mixed with benzoyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol as a solvent. It helps the ink to dry faster and makes it smooth. As we all know, like attracts like, therefore rubbing alcohol or alcohol in general can pull off ink stains.


ink stain on clothing

It is absolutely wonderful that it can remove ink stains from clothing but unfortunately that is not the right type of teeth stains that make them yellow. Maybe a select few in the world eat pen ink but no sane person would do that. Basically our teeth don't have ink stains so that makes rubbing alcohol an ineffective tooth whitener.


After all, ink stains fall under the category of inorganic stains while the vast majority of teeth stains tend to be more organic. All teeth whitening products are focused on removing organic stains and not inorganic ones.


Organic stains vs Inorganic stains

Organic stains tend to be more natural and in the case of our teeth, it comes from organic foods. Inorganic stains are synthetic and tend to be man made which isn't something that we usually eat.


Organic stains:

  • Coffee

  • Red wine

  • Tea

  • Mustard

  • Ketchup

  • Food coloring


Inorganic stains:

  • Ink

  • Color dyes

  • Soil from plant pots


The main tooth whitening ingredient, hydrogen peroxide will oxidize ORGANIC stains only while leaving the inorganic untouched. Studies have demonstrated this because when the peroxide diffuses through the tooth, only the organic matrices get oxidized while leaving the inorganic intact.


The mechanism for how teeth whitening works is that the free radicals produced by peroxide will attack conjugated double bonds. The double bonds will convert to single bonds and that makes organic stains become invisible to the naked eye.


Hydrogen peroxide oxidation of double bonds
Credit: Clifton Carey

This mechanism makes peroxide a very effective tooth whitener since the stains are all organic. However what peroxide won't do is whiten inorganic stains. The reason is because the inorganic ones do NOT have carbons in their molecular structure and thus do not form conjugated double bonds. Therefore rendering hydrogen peroxide ineffective against inorganic stains. That is not an issue for us because our teeth don't have inorganic stains because we don't eat inorganic foods like pen ink.


Side effects of using rubbing alcohol in the mouth

If you were to use rubbing alcohol for teeth whitening, there would be a lot of unintended and unwanted side effects. The worst part is, at the end of the day you won't have whiter teeth even after suffering through all of the adverse effects.


  • Central nervous system inebriant

  • Depressant

  • Dizziness

  • Headaches

  • Gastrointestinal irritant

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Hematemesis


Overall the adverse effects mostly resemble alcohol poisoning when severe or being "drunk" with moderate usage. Rubbing alcohol is still alcohol and that is simply what it does to your body if you brush with it. It's pretty similar to having alcoholic drinks except this is much more potent since it often comes in 70%+ concentrations.


Alcohol concentration of various drinks:

  • Spirits will average 40% alcohol

  • Beer will average 4-6%

  • Wine averages 11-13%


If you try to use this method to bleach your teeth, you'll end up drunk and intoxicated rather than having whiter teeth!


Better alternative

Instead of using this DIY home remedy for brighter teeth, you should use a proven method instead. These won't get you inebriated but they will improve your smile.


A cost effective option would be any of the OTC whitening products that contain peroxide.

  • Toothpaste

  • Mouthwash

  • Pens

  • Strips

  • Pre-fabricated trays with or without LED light


A guaranteed way to work but costs more than OTC is professional whitening:

  • In-office with and without the LED light

  • Customized take home trays


Takeaway

Rubbing alcohol can remove synthetic stains like from pen ink which is great. Unfortunately that is not the right type of stain which make our teeth yellow. Therefore it is an ineffective tooth whitener since it doesn't work on teeth.


If you ignore what we have to say and try to do it anyway, what you'll find is that you'll simply become intoxicated. You are putting alcohol in your mouth so that is no surprise. Rubbing alcohol is incredibly potent and you're NOT supposed to drink it. Its meant to be used as a first aid antiseptic as it states on the bottle label!


If alcohol did make teeth whiter, the alcoholics in this world would have the whitest teeth. Unfortunately they don't and that is why our dentists in long island city offer professional teeth whitening services!

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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