Historical Teeth Whitening Practices in Ancient Civilisation

With teeth whitening such a popular treatment today, spanning both the home-kit market and the professional dentistry industry, you’d be forgiven for thinking that whitening as a whole is a relatively new industry and concept to be involved with. After all, it is only with the rise in photographs and social media that most of us even really notice the shade of our own teeth and compare them with the teeth of the people around us – right?

Well, it turns out that teeth whitening is something that humanity has been concerned with for a lot longer than we might think – emphasising the role of whiter teeth in projecting confidence, making us feel more open, and presenting ourselves in a better way to others. Not to mention, with oral hygiene such an intrinsic part of our self-care routine as humans, the likelihood is that many of the practices discussed below were actually developed as a means to keep the mouth and teeth clean – with whiter teeth simply a bonus. 

The history of teeth whitening

Because whiter teeth are generally connected to oral hygiene and dental care to some degree, it appears that some of the earliest ancient practices have been around for more than 4,000 years – with people more than 5,000 years ago using what they could find to keep their mouths feeling clean and fresh.

Teeth whitening as a concept seems to be something which really picked up pace during the era of the Egyptians, who would crush a pumice stone and mix it with white vinegar before rubbing it on their teeth. Today, we probably wouldn’t even need to tell you how damaging that would be to the enamel on your teeth – but, with white teeth the order of the day for the Ancient Egyptians, this became the go-to method. 

Another method of teeth whitening stems from the Ancient Romans, who were known to use their own urine as a whitening agent. Though this sounds highly unpleasant (and it is), the science is actually something that has transferred all the way into today’s whitening agents, thanks to the presence of ammonia. Ammonia is a highly potent and effective ingredient that is still used in whitening products today – making the science behind their urine swilling quite revolutionary. 

In the 12th century, a combination of sage and salt was used on the teeth to try and brighten them up. Meanwhile, in the 17th century, teeth whitening took on another form – and actually became linked with hairdressing, as barbers would double up as dentists and offer a haircut and dental whitening treatment all in one sitting. The process was simple: the teeth were ground down, and then acid was applied to whiten them, all the while eating away at the protective layers of enamel, and laying the foundations for debilitating tooth decay. 

The 18th century brought little relief, with the inclusion of oxalic acid, which causes irreversible damage to the teeth, until the 19th century rolled around and introduced the concept of fluoride – something that is still very much used today. 

What all of this history tells us is that white teeth matter, and have mattered, to humans for centuries on end. While the practices have changed, dietary advice has shifted, and safety and regulations have become more important, the end goal is the same. 

So, how have historical practices inspired and been carried into modern teeth whitening treatments?

How history has inspired modern teeth whitening

We’ve already mentioned the role of ammonia and how, even though we don’t use urine anymore for teeth whitening purposes, the ingredient of ammonia is still a potent one in the whitening sphere. 

Another ingredient that stems from 1840 is fluoride, which is still very much a hot ingredient in the dental world today. And it’s also worth noting that bicarbonate of soda is a DIY method that is still used today, despite first appearing decades ago – though professional treatments now far surpass the potency and effectiveness of these DIY results thanks to the presence of whitening agents and innovative lasers.

In short, the modern approach to teeth whitening offers a range of options to clients and consumers based on their budget and how effective they want the treatment to be. Despite all the history outlined above, there are still drawbacks to the DIY and at-home kits, which can cause tooth sensitivity and some erosion when administered incorrectly, which is why the best option in the 21st century is to visit a dentist and book a professional whitening treatment. 

During this treatment, you will first be invited to a consultation, where you can outline your ideal results and discuss the whitening process with the practitioner. The treatment itself takes less than an hour and boasts immediate results that will have you smiling all the way home. A whitening agent is applied to the teeth, and then a Blue Spectrum Laser is shone on them – activating the whitening agent and lightening the shade of the teeth as required. 

Not only is this treatment efficient and effective, but the results themselves can last for upwards of 18  months with good care and attention. Best of all, the entire process is safe and should not spark any sensitivity or negative side effects at all. 

Is teeth whitening right for you?

There are countless benefits linked with teeth whitening; many of which explain why it has remained at the forefront of dental care and self-care for so many generations.

For one thing, a whiter smile is aesthetically pleasing. It makes people look more attractive in the eyes of others, and points at a level of care and respect for oneself. 

What’s more, a whiter smile evokes confidence, and has been regularly cited as a positive investment for those looking to boost confidence prior to a major event, job interview, date, or other significant occasion. Confidence makes us better communicators, and makes others open up to us more.

Finally, teeth whitening is simply more accessible today, and is an on-trend investment that is offered by dentists all over the world. Get in touch with your local dentist to find out more about whitening packages.