Besides pain and cavities, improving the look of your smile is one of the top reasons people visit a dentist and whiter teeth play a big part in this. Teeth whitening is also on the less expensive end of the spectrum, which makes the treatment available to more patients. People have been attempting to whiten and brighten their smiles since ancient times using a variety of techniques that are both frightening and genius. The techniques have come a long way but still consist of the basic ingredients first discovered in the early 19th century.
Ancient tooth whitening attempts were as primitive as you’d expect. Early man used frayed sticks and thorns from bushes to clean and scrape their teeth. Once civilization began to emerge, white teeth were a sign of nobility and wealth. Romans used a paste of urine and goats milk. Egyptians used pumice and a wine vinegar. 12th century physicians recommended that patients use a sage and salt rub to whiten their teeth or that they scrub them with the Elecampane flower. The public turned to barbers for their dental needs in the 17th century, who would use a metal file to make the teeth abrasive and then paint them with nitric acid. The late 18th century brought about the use of bleaching with oxalic acid by some physicians. While all these techniques probably worked to an extent, they also caused immeasurable damage to the teeth.
The birth of modern whitening
With the dawn of the 19th century, dental professionals were concerned with healing the gums from disease and infection, especially in conjunction with braces and corrective orthodontic wear. They had discovered the positive restorative effects of hydrogen peroxide and were constantly developing ways to enable patients to keep their gums exposed to it for longer periods of time. In 1918, it was discovered that a heated lamp in conjunction with hydrogen peroxide would lighten teeth. A dentist in the late 1960’s discovered that after prescribing an overnight soak in carbamide peroxide using an orthodontic positioner for gum irritation, the teeth were significantly whiter.
The idea was tossed around the dental convention circuit for 20 years before it really took off. A thick whitening gel, Opalescence carbamide peroxide (Ultradent Products), was patented in 1989 and is still the basic technique used today. Dentists offices began offering tray whitening services and strip whitening also began to take off. Another technique used in offices today is to visit the dentist several times consecutively to have highly concentrated bleaching solution applied in conjunction with an LED light. Tooth bleaching trays are custom made to fit the exact mold of the patients teeth.
The popularity of teeth whitening procedures led to an influx of at-home varieties. They vary in cost and effectiveness but many rival office procedures and are cost effective. There are also a wide variety of whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes. Dental offices have had to make concessions for the huge amount of at-home products for good quality teeth whitening as people continue to search for the perfect smile.