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Whiter Smiles Through the Centuries: A Brief History of Teeth Whitening

February 13, 2024

Filed under: Uncategorized — walkerddsteam @ 11:27 pm
Before and after teeth whitening

If you’ve ever worried about the whiteness of your teeth, you are not alone. Ever since people figured out how to recognize their own reflections, they have fretted over stains in their teeth and sought ways to achieve a whiter smile. While your dentist can provide you with safe and effective teeth whitening treatments today, some other whitening methods are best left in previous centuries. Here’s a brief overview of the history of teeth whitening to help you better appreciate how pleasant modern dentistry is.

Ancient Teeth Whitening

White teeth have long been held as a sign of beauty and status. In ancient Egypt, people associated a bright smile with wealth and a high place in society. Accordingly, the Egyptians developed a whitening treatment that used a frayed stick to brush a mixture of white vinegar and ground pumice on the teeth to lift stains and discoloration.

This Egyptian teeth whitening method is actually quite palatable compared to the ancient Roman method, but at least the Roman way was cheap and accessible to people of all ages, professions, genders, and social classes. To whiten their teeth, the ancient Romans would use their own urine as mouthwash. While this was fairly effective at brightening a smile due to the ammonia in this bodily fluid, it wasn’t great for the patient’s breath.

The Medieval Barber’s Teeth Whitening Method

In the medieval period, dentistry and surgery were considered to be the job of the local barber. Unfortunately, they had no formal training, so they used a rather barbaric method to whiten their patients’ teeth. First, they would use a file to rough up their patient’s enamel to create more surface area, and then they would coat the teeth with strong nitric acid. While this was effective at whitening a person’s teeth, it also painfully eroded the enamel, setting them up for tooth decay down the line.

Modern Teeth Whitening Treatments

Thankfully, your local dentist has all the training they need to provide you with a comfortable and effective teeth whitening treatment. This takes the shape of an in-office procedure or a take-home kit, and either can leave your teeth up to ten shades whiter.

For in-office teeth whitening, your dentist will cover the soft tissues of your mouth to protect them before applying a few coats of a specialized whitening agent. They will then treat your teeth with a special ultraviolet light to catalyze the bleaching process. This procedure can be completed in a single appointment that only takes about an hour.

A take-home whitening kit from your dentist includes a tube of professional-grade whitening gel and dental trays customized to fit your teeth. You’ll only need to apply this gel to your trays and wear them over your teeth for an hour every day for two weeks. This professional kit delivers results far superior to any similar product you can find at the store or pharmacy.

Modern cosmetic dentistry has many ways to help people enjoy a more beautiful smile. Consulting with your dentist can determine if you are a good candidate for teeth whitening.

About the Author

Dr. Zack Walker earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry and completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program through the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine. Areas of expertise include preventive, restorative, emergency, and cosmetic dentistry. To schedule a teeth whitening consultation, contact his office online or dial (336) 993-3727.

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