Tooth whitening is a process that has recently become more popular. In the past, different cultures and societies placed value on teeth that were black, or flied down, and reshaped into points.
Blackened teeth were prized in some Asian and Oceanic cultures, in Russia, as well as the South Americas, but this trend disappeared after the introduction of European standards of beauty during the Colonial eras. Unexpectedly, the process had the health benefit of preserving the teeth and preventing cavities like the sealant process used today.
Tooth filing, or removal was a practice in some of the same geographic areas, for religious or social reasons such as a marriage rite. This will lead to bacterial invasion of the interior of the tooth and discomfort or infection consequently.
Tooth whitening has a long-recorded history beginning with the ancient Egyptians who used a paste of pumice and vinegar. The Romans made use of the ammonia found in urine as a bleaching agent. In the 17th century, barbers would file teeth, and then apply acid which would whiten teeth, but would also disintegrate them.
Fortunately, the low concentration of peroxide generally used in the whitening process today has few side effects unlike these older practices.
In Britain, the concentration of peroxide that can legally sold is 1% or less. It is recommended that to use over 1% peroxide, a dentist should be consulted to avoid short- or long-term damage.
The British Dental Association has advised that using the wrong products at home could cause "permanent damage." "The BDA is concerned about the DIY trend to whiten teeth with levels of hydrogen peroxide that are higher than that permitted in over-the-counter products”.
"Using higher concentrations unsupervised, as some videos advocate, raises the risk of damage to teeth and gums, including burns to the mouth, tooth and gum sensitivity, as well as irritated or inflamed gums."
Recently TikTok videos with the hashtag "#teethwhitening" have amassed about 284 million views. Some recommend applying bleach to teeth, to avoid "expensive" over-the-counter treatments.
Unfortunately, the use of bleach in the mouth will cause painful ulceration in the soft tissues, as well as predispose the teeth to nerve damage and root canal treatment. Applying bleach to living tissue causes the proteins contained in the cell to alter their three-dimensional structure. When these important proteins lose their shape the cell can no longer survive. Because the tooth root is porous, bleach can penetrate the tooth, deep into the nerve canal and cause the nerve and blood vessels to disintegrate opening the tooth to infection by bacteria and causing bone abscesses.
It is far better to have teeth that can be whitened conventionally, than to pay the price of removing damaged teeth after following the unscientific advice found on some social media sites.