A Brief His­to­ry Of Tooth Whiten­ing — From The Sub­lime To The Ridiculous

Even our ancient fore­bears realised the pos­i­tive effects whiter teeth had, so let’s jour­ney back in time and see how our ances­tors pur­sued the quest for whiter teeth. 

At Measham Dental, when we speak to many of our patients we often get the feedback that they wish their teeth were a little whiter. A recent survey suggests 3 of out every 10 people in the UK feel the same. But what’s more interesting is it seems that humans have always felt this way, even way back to ancient times…

You see, while you may think that tooth whitening is a 21st century sensation, the reality is that the quest for whiter teeth can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt and Rome - albeit using pretty crude techniques. So let’s journey back in time and take a brief look at the history of tooth whitening, right through to the modern day, to see just how their ancient attempts compare.

4,000 years ago – Pumice stone & wine vinegar

It seems that the Egyptians viewed white teeth as a sign of beauty and wealth. So to make sure their pearly whites were dazzling, they created a lightening concoction made of wine vinegar paste mixed with ground pumice stones. Although quite ingenious – it ultimately had a harsh effect on their teeth. As effective as it was at whitening the smile, the stone paste made abrasions in the enamel meaning the acid from the vinegar would seep in and gradually rot their teeth…not quite the glamorous effect they were looking for!

2,000 years ago – Goats milk and human urine

Fast forward a couple of Millennium to ancient Rome and it gets worse…

They learned from the Egyptian tooth whitening experience and thought they’d found a better way to whiten teeth. However their solution was a slightly disturbing one in that they used human urine. Yes, that’s correct… along with goats milk for bone strengthening they’d rub it on their teeth because they figured ammonia was (and actually it is) a bleaching agent. While you probably wouldn't want to go kissing someone who had just brushed their teeth in this way, it was actually surprisingly effective.

400 years ago – Nitric acid

Fast forward again and we now find ourselves in the 1600’s, where barber-surgeons not only managed your hair but also your medical needs and dental care too. How convenient. Well not really....

Not only were pretty much all dental issues resolved by removing teeth – remember this was pre-anaesthetic - teeth whitening was carried out in an equally barbaric way. Firstly they would file the teeth down and then they would douse them in nitric acid to wash away any staining. As a consequence, aside from being extremely uncomfortable, it stripped away virtually every bit of enamel, quickly leading to rotten teeth.

Modern day – hydrogen peroxide

In the 1960’s, dentists stumbled across the use of hydrogen peroxide. While peroxide gel was commonly used as an antiseptic to treat gum disease, they noticed that a side effect of treatment was actually whiter teeth. Following this discovery, gels and trays were specifically developed for teeth whitening and the rest they say, is history. Finally a safe, effective, and most of all, urine-free technique!

So it appears that wanting sparkling white teeth is a continuing trend. If you’re interested in having your teeth whitened using 21st century methods then come and talk to Measham Dental. We offer quick, easy, and effective processes in the form of chair side and take-home treatments. Call us today on 01530 272 264 to find out more.

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