People throughout history have sought out ways to achieve a whiter smile. In cases of superficial discoloration such as a buildup of plaque or food debris, cleaning the teeth proved to be sufficient to produce a brighter grin. However, cultures throughout history have also developed different methods to treat more stubborn forms of discoloration. Read on to learn about the history of teeth whitening and how it evolved into its modern form.
Ancient Methods of Teeth Whitening
In 3000 B.C., well before the age of modern teeth whitening and toothbrushes alike, people would clean their teeth by chewing on twigs to remove plaque and food debris. This would whiten teeth by removing darker materials from their surface, but it wouldn’t deal with any deeper forms of discoloration. Around 2000 B.C., Egyptians developed a whitening paste made from wine vinegar and ground pumice stone, which they would brush on their teeth using a frayed stick.
Around 1000 B.C., Romans would whiten their teeth by rinsing them with human urine. It was somewhat effective because urine contains ammonia, which works as a bleaching agent. Thankfully, modern whitening processes leave patients with much fresher breath.
During the 17th century, barbers served both to groom people’s hair and care for their teeth. They weren’t very good as dentists, though, because they would file teeth down to create an abrasive surface before treating them with a strong nitric acid. While it would make the teeth appear whiter, it also eroded enamel and caused tooth decay.
The Dawn of Modern Teeth Whitening
By the early 20th century, dentists discovered that patients exposed to fluoride in food and water had cavity-free teeth, but too much exposure could stain them. They also figured out that hydrogen peroxide was effective at both treating gum disease and whitening teeth. In 1918, dentists discovered that exposing teeth coated with hydrogen peroxide to a heat lamp accelerated the chemical’s whitening process. In the 1960s, they realized that teeth could become much whiter if soaked in peroxide overnight.
In the late 1980s, dentists began offering whitening services using a dental tray and a gel containing opalescence carbamide peroxide. In the wake of this, modern mass-produced teeth-whitening products such as specialized toothpaste and at-home kits began hitting the shelves in stores. Teeth whitening was finally safe, effective, and accessible.
Professional Take-Home Whitening Kits
Today, your dentist can provide you with a take-home kit that comes with whitening gel and a dental tray custom-fitted to your teeth. All you need to do is apply the gel to your tray and wear it as directed, which is convenient for patients looking to brighten their smile on their own schedule. The results will be far superior to anything you can buy at a pharmacy, resulting in teeth becoming up to ten shades whiter.
It took thousands of years of trial and error to develop the superior whitening methods available to dentists today. Consulting with your dental care provider can help you determine if teeth whitening treatment is right for you.
About the Author
Dr. Dan Passidomo earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine from the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in 1993. He serves as a member of the American Dental Association, the Academy of General Dentists, and the Academy of Cosmetic Dentists, and he spends each February visiting local grade schools to teach students about good oral hygiene. His practice offers general, restorative, emergency, and cosmetic dentistry such as teeth whitening treatments. If you are interested in teeth whitening, contact his office online or dial (937) 886-9935.