The history of teeth whitening

Are you ready to get your teeth whitened?

We all know that dentists today offer a whole range of teeth whitening products which often have spectacular results.

However, teeth whitening is far from new. It’s only big news now because of the technological advancements in the treatments and how quick and easy it is.

For more than 5,000 years people have been using whatever was around at the time to clean their teeth and keep them white, and there have been been some weird and wonderful things used!

The practice of whitening teeth actually began approximately 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Those clever Egyptian ground up a pumice stone and mixed it with white vinegar to produce a whitening paste.

As white teeth were considered to be both a sign of beauty and wealth this was hugely popular… even though it sounds pretty horrendous.

This wasn’t the worst concoction ever used to whiten teeth however. That honour goes to the Romans who used urine! Yep they had a pee then brushed their teeth with it! Yuk.

The thing is is that it did the trick as it contained an ingredient still used today; ammonia. Early dentists recognised the effect that ammonia had on teeth and started using it. You’ll find it in some teeth cleaning products you can buy now. At least nowadays it’s been refined and you can’t actually taste it!

Fast forward to the 17th century and the well to do amongst society would take a trip to their barbers for a hair cut and their teeth whitened. It was common practice for a barber to also be a dentist, and vice versa, so it was very often a case of “a short back and sides and an extraction please”!

The whitening side of it was pretty nasty as the dentist/barber would first grind down the teeth before applying acid to whiten them. What nobody realised at the time was that while it gave you gleaming white gnashers it was actually eating away at the enamel and led to decay. As white teeth and a great smile was considered to be of the utmost importance this practice carried into the 18th century.

Around 1840 it was discovered that fluoride could be used to keep teeth clean, healthy and whiter. Everyone went bonkers over it only to discover to their chagrin that too much fluoride actually discolours the teeth leaving them looking worse that they did in the first place.

This was honed over the years and now, as we all know, fluoride is the main ingredient in most toothpastes. A word of caution though; were you aware that swallowing your toothpaste rather than spitting it out can be harmful and cause tooth discolouration?

Other things used through the years to whiten teeth which are are still around today include bicarbonate of soda. When this first started appearing in toothpastes promising the whitest teeth ever, those who has always stuck their brush in a tub of bicarb laughed at this so called ‘new discovery’. Cleaning your teeth using bicarb is a good temporary measure if you have just had a glass of red wine for example but it doesn’t taste particularly pleasant. And unless that water is cold there can be some extreme foaming occurring.

So to today and the numerous tooth whitening treatments available. Dentists soon realised that as whole we weren’t going to give up our favourite things because they discoloured our teeth. There are also a whole range of common medications which discolour the teeth that ordinary toothpastes and powders have little or no effect on. Way back in 2002 a survey by Colgate and the American Dental Association found that teeth whitening was the fastest growing dental treatment and in the years since then it has gone stratospheric. Here in the UK it’s no different.

From bleaching to laser it seems as if new teeth whitening treatments are constantly appearing. Your recommended dentist will test these and advocate which they feel are most effective, and safest, for their patients.

To book your consultation call 01202 487888.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teeth Whitening
5 more common reasons people get their teeth whitened