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Shades of Change: The History of Teeth Whitening

July 21, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — oxforddental @ 1:10 pm
A rendering of a medieval dentist's chair where a man is having his teeth whitened

It is said that history repeats itself, this is largely found to be true when dealing with human nature. One of the core desires of humanity from every age is beauty. While standards change over time, one of the constant elements of an aesthetic human face has been a brilliant smile.

When we think of teeth whitening today, we think of plastic guards full of gel or the glow of blue ultraviolet lasers. However, the procedures and rites of our ancestors were quite different.

Continue reading if you’ve ever been curious about how people went about getting the optimal pearlescent smile in eons past.

Ancient Egyptian Toothpaste

Around 3000 B.C. the Egyptians were famed for their emphasis on beauty. In the desert nation ruled over by the Pharaohs, the highest-ranking officials wore cosmetics and fine clothing to enhance their appearance.

This was not the only way they separated themselves from the common people. They would routinely whiten their teeth using a mixture of ground pumice and white vinegar. A frayed stick would serve as a brush, moving the mixture around until it was washed away. The result was a whiter smile that signified their advanced station.

The Science of the Romans

The Romans around the same time had a much different approach to whitening their teeth. Instead of pumice and vinegar, they relied on the bleaching power of ammonia.

While this is a scientifically sound way to chemically whiten teeth, the unique source of their ammonia was human urine. They would swish it around in their mouths like mouthwash to achieve a light blanching effect.

Teeth Whitening in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, barbers were not just people who cut hair, but also surgeons and dentists. However, their methods may have sparked the modern usage of the word “barbarous” as they often involved crude and painful techniques.

For whitening teeth, a barber would use a metal file to sand away the top layer of enamel on the teeth before sealing it with a strong nitric acid. While this ultimately achieved the desired effect, the consistent use of this technique often led to widespread tooth decay.

Whitening Solutions of Modern Dentistry

There were no big changes to the science of whitening teeth until the 19th century when dentists discovered that the same chemical they used to treat infected gums, hydrogen peroxide, could be used to whiten teeth.

From there the trend took off, leading to the trays of whitening gel used today. Modern teeth whitening solutions are relatively fast, painless, and affordable. No urine, metal files, or pumice paste are used—guaranteed.

About the Practice

Dr. Brent Cline was drawn to dentistry for his love of science and fellowship. After completing dental school, Dr. Cline sought out advanced training in general dentistry at ISU in Pocatello. This training gave him a more comprehensive mindset, emphasizing the long-term goals of every patient. To schedule a teeth whitening appointment at Oxford Dental Care of Idaho Falls, visit the website here or call (208) 487-5987 for more information.

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