Teeth whitening has developed into big business in the 21st Century. Possessing beautiful white teeth has long been sought after, but developing technology has finally made it possible for individuals to cosmetically alter the appearance of their teeth, making them look healthier.
Possessing pearly whites has been linked to making great first impressions and appearing attractive to prospective partners. Quartz reasons that this is because teeth can give away a lot of information about a person and their health and genetics. For instance, tooth loss can be associated with nutritional imbalances, cardiovascular ailments, stroke and generally poor health.
Likewise, large spaces between teeth can indicate the presence of genetic disorders like Rapp-Hodgkin Syndrome and Robinow’s Syndrome. Significantly, the colour of our teeth can reveal plenty about our age and daily diet.
Given the world’s obsession with reversing the signs of ageing, it’s perhaps unsurprising that in the US alone, over $1 billion dollars is spent yearly on cosmetic dental procedures.
The chart above illustrates just how significant teeth whitening has become in the world of cosmetic dentistry. But just how are we going about reversing the signs of ageing and acting to keep our teeth looking white?
Let’s take a look at some of the less-common ways that we’re aiming to keep our teeth looking healthy, while also assessing the approaches’ true cost in terms of both money, results and side-effects:
How Teeth Whitening Has Evolved
With interest in teeth whitening reaching fever-pitch in recent years, it’s hard to imagine where our obsession with keeping our teeth looking white and healthy began.
In fact, we’ve been trying to keep our teeth looking white and healthy long before the arrival of the toothbrush. In around 5,000 BC, our ancestors took to chewing on sticks to keep their teeth clean. In some cases, they would fray the stick on one end and rub it over their teeth to remove any lingering food particles.
It wasn’t until the 16th Century that bristle-based toothbrushes started to make an appearance in history, but it would be some time yet before the world had the chance to buy into teeth whitening toothpaste.
The 20th Century was a chaotic era of aggressive marketing campaigns and slogans that promised the world to shoppers. When specialist whitening toothpastes first appeared, they were significantly more expensive than more generic toothpaste formulas. The packaging used would promise noticeably enhanced smiles, but their secret ingredient was bicarbonate of soda – a solution that’s extremely cheap to source – however, this didn’t stop manufacturers ramping up their prices and making profits.
Teeth whitening procedures were also rudimentary in the 20th Century. Bleaching with peroxide became a popular approach in the 1980s before modern technology started ramping up the scale of treatments that have become commonplace in dental surgeries today.
However, history has thrown up some interestingly left-field approaches to teeth whitening. In Ancient Rome, urine was a popular approach to teeth whitening – with users believing that the ammonia in the urine would work as a bleaching agent.
In the 17th Century, when it was common for people to rely on barbers to not only cut their hair but care for their teeth, it was commonplace for barbers to file down teeth and apply an acid that would make them appear whiter. While this approach worked in making teeth appear bright, it also eroded tooth enamel and led to decay.
We may have made significant progress from the dark ages of tooth whitening procedures, but if you’re looking for ways to make your smile appear brighter, it’s still worth doing your research and looking out for the side effects attached to some of the more popular approaches of today.
If you possess sensitive teeth, some abrasive and chemical-based procedures can make the teeth whitening process altogether a more painful experience. If you suspect that your teeth are overly sensitive before undergoing a whitening procedure, it could be worth consulting your dentist before checking out the options available to you that are a little bit more accommodating.
One of the most dangerous side effects of some teeth whitening procedures comes in the form of soft tissue irritation. Otherwise known as chemical burns, soft tissue irritation can occur if a chemical solution is exposed to gum tissue during a whitening procedure. As many procedures are reliant on strong chemicals to deliver a whitening effect, this can occur in many treatments. Inflammation can occur in affected areas and gums can appear excessively red. However, products are continually being developed to mitigate instances of irritation, and Crest 3D Whitestrips, for instance, utilises Advanced Seal™ Technology on their strips to ensure whitening agents don’t slip and cover more delicate areas.
Elsewhere, another undesired side-effect can come in the form of unsatisfactory results. Everybody’s mouth is different, and each set of teeth has undergone years of staining, different levels of cleaning and general wear and tear. This makes it difficult for some dentists to accurately determine and convey the outcome of a treatment before it happens. However, emerging technology could help out in visualising the effects of teeth whitening procedures. IvoSmile is an app that utilises augmented reality to accurately render what a patient’s mouth would look like following a specific treatment to help provide a greater level of patient-dentist understanding.
When it comes to the act of teeth whitening itself, there’s no shortage of new and ambitious treatments available. So let’s take a look at some of the more off-the-wall approaches to gaining a set of pearly whites:
(Image: Blue Apples)
Activated charcoal has been enjoying something of an unlikely rise in popularity in recent years for a variety of health-related reasons. Some have even resorted to eating activated charcoal to help cleanse them of toxins in the body.
Using activated charcoal to whiten our teeth sounds counter-intuitive. After all, using something that’s black in appearance seems unlikely to make teeth appear cleaner. However, activated charcoal teeth whitening products have continued to grow in popularity due to plenty of success stories accumulating around the approach.
Customers have managed to find further appeal in the fact that the solution is typically entirely natural and cruelty-free – paving the way for more conscious whitening.
Activated charcoal as a teeth whitening product is a relatively new concept. So much so that the question of whether or not activated charcoal can clean teeth is one that’s disputed online. In fact, the FDA has approved activated charcoal for a range of uses – but not for whitening teeth.
Despite a lack of formal recognition, the anecdotal evidence supporting the performance of activated charcoal and the job it does in whitening teeth is piling up.
The cost of activated charcoal solutions start at just £14.99 for whitening gel, and fully-fledged whitening kits are a relatively cost-effective £39.99.
Another factor to consider when considering the true cost of this left-field approach to whitening is the abrasiveness of activated charcoal. This would adversely affect users with more sensitive teeth and gums, but the arrival of specialised activated charcoal gels makes the application process much easier and pain-free.
Dental veneers have become increasingly popular within the world of celebrity, and it’s perhaps no surprise when the price of treatments can range well into the thousands of pounds.
There are plenty of reasons why somebody would want to pay to have veneers installed – and they typically wouldn’t just involve the want of having a brighter smile, but more and more customers are buying into the procedure with the simple aim of having bright white and straight teeth.
Veneers work as customised shells that fit over your teeth. To attach them properly, a user’s teeth need to be filed down to accommodate the veneers – meaning that the procedure is non-reversible.
While getting veneers fitted can help to offer a long-lasting solution to dental imperfections, there are plenty of drawbacks to the longevity of the approach for many. If you suffer from weakened teeth or gum disease, veneers may not be capable of staying in place over time. Furthermore, it’s difficult to fix veneers if they become chipped or cracked – meaning that the procedure may not be ideal for people who grind their teeth.
Veneers can also make your existing teeth more sensitive to hot or cold temperatures, and if you’re having them fitted alongside existing teeth, it’s vital to find a colour that’s consistent between real teeth and veneers – be sure to bear in mind if you’re planning to whiten existing teeth after having veneers fitted.
While the true costs associated with veneers can extend way beyond their hefty price tags, they can offer some form of solace to customers who may have complex dental problems that need to be addressed.
Until relatively recently, the most common way of whitening teeth involved soaking them in a hydrogen peroxide solution or one that consists of similar substances. These procedures could take place at home using weaker solutions, or completed at local dentists with a stronger solution.
Laser whitening became a popular recommendation among cosmetic dentists, who would turn to the use of lasers to speed up the chemical reaction taking place with chemical whitening solutions on teeth. This approach whitened teeth at a faster rate and required fewer sessions. Unlike with peroxide whitening, laser whitening couldn’t be done at home and needed to be completed under the full supervision of a qualified dentist.
Depending on where you go, laser whitening can cost upwards of £1,500. While these associated costs are eye-wateringly high, laser whitening has been an effective method for producing clearer white results. However, due to the use of chemicals in the process, it’s worth conducting your fair share of research if you happen to suffer from sensitive teeth or gum disease.
As we can see, history has had more than its fair share of off the wall approaches to ensuring that our teeth stay looking white and fresh, but the 21st Century has been no stranger to unusual teeth whitening approaches too.
While we’ve come a long way from the days of using sticks to clear dirt from our mouths, it’s reassuring to see that we still have natural remedies like activated charcoal available to use alongside more elaborate whitening methods.
With so many alternative approaches to whitening cropping up, and with an ever-expanding market, we can be sure that technology will bring us even more weird and wonderful approaches to dental hygiene in the future.