TikTokers aren’t exactly the first port of call when looking for dental advice, but dentists are. Those looking for quick cosmetic fixes at home however have been turning to the social media app for tips and tricks on improving their pearly whites.
With at-home beauty tips only increasing in the last year of lockdowns and closures, the online hacks have upped in extremity with TikTok hurling out daring dental hacks seemingly every week. But just because the clips are paired with smiling faces and the tunes of Doja Cat, doesn’t mean they’re all smiles.
General and cosmetic dentist Dr. Tina Saw DDS spoke to Newsweek on just how damaging some of TikTok’s biggest trends can be for your teeth.
“I always say check with a dentist, at least get a consultation with everything. There’s a reason why we go to school for at least four years of clinical training, and a lot of dentists will do a residency after that too, and there are reasons for that. You can’t always trust Google and TikTok for some of these dental trends that can possibly be irriversible, and cause long-term damage,” she prefaces.
Although it may be easy to assume that a dentist would immediately knock back every and any out-of-office treatment, Dr. Saw is one actually open to the benefits of improving your smile from home, when done right. In fact, over the pandemic, Dr. Saw founded her at-home oral wellness testing kit, Oral Genome, that measures your saliva’s response to fighting cavities, gum disease, and bad breath
Magic Erasers to Brighten Your Smile
The packaging warns to keep away from children, but seemingly TikTokers need to keep away as well. On the app, videos show users recommending to use the erasers to wipe at your teeth, leaving a whitening effect. For most, this is a tempting hack with an object already in the house, but Dr. Tina Saw has dubbed it the worst hack out there.
“They contain melamine which is really toxic,” she explains. “It tends to cause irritability, like having difficulty urinating and a lot of other problems. If you look at some of the dishes that you may eat on, a lot of them are made out of melamine. This is not something that should be ingested at all.”
The chemical can mix with the saliva while rubbing the teeth, which can lead to ingestion, causing vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
Side effects aside, the magic eraser can actually make your teeth yellower, says Dr. Saw: “It’s incredibly abrasive. So anything where it’s essentially like sandpaper, you’re taking sandpaper and you’re scrubbing it off. A lot of people put a lot of pressure when they’re using that magic erase marker and you can essentially scrub off your enamel. Enamel is the whiter outside protective layer of your teeth, you can actually scrub off enamel and the inside layer is dentin, it’s more yellow. You will end up with sensitive teeth and yellow, which is exactly against what you were just trying to work towards.”
Instead, Dr. Saw recommends people use the likes of a “very gentle carbamide peroxide bleaching gel” instead, which can be purchased over the counter or from a dentist.
Using Rubber Bands to Close Gaps in the Teeth
Braces are a lengthy and consuming process, and so some TikTokers are using their own technique to achieve similar results in the space of a few days. Or so they thought.
According to Dr. Saw, band users may actually find themselves with no teeth further down the road after damaging the root. “As dentists were trained not to close gaps and move teeth that quick, because when you move teeth that quick, it can actually put so much force on the root, your root can actually resorb and shorten. So when that happens, you could actually lose your teeth, they’ll look good maybe for the time being, but in the long run a couple years down the line, you’re gonna realize, ‘Oh, this tooth is starting to hurt’ or you’ll notice the tooth might get loose. And then when a dentist takes an X-ray, a lot of times they can see these shorter routes because the teeth are removed too fast.”
Dentists will also use specific bands with different thicknesses and tensions in order to control the amount of movement, unlike the generic rubber bands and hair ties used by TikTokers.
Those trying the hack also run risk of bacteria and ultimately gum disease. “The other thing too is when you are using rubber bands, it’s not really quite natural to the teeth. It’s not biocompatible. So when it touches the gums and it’s sitting there for a long time, it’s essentially a foreign object that sits in the pockets of your gums causing a bacteria growth in that area. When there’s prolonged bacteria growth that’s not cleaned out thoroughly, that’s essentially like an irritation to your gums, which causes bone loss. You essentially move your teeth but then you lose the supporting structure and bone around there and those teeth can eventually come out and be at risk of gum disease,” explains Dr. Saw.
Instead, she recommends those wanting to close gaps visit a good orthodontist rather than attempt any at-home techniques.
Nail Files to Shape the Teeth
In another extreme dental TikTok trend, users are employing nail files to straighten out the shape of their individual teeth. It sounds simple, you simply file the tooth to the desired shape and length, and you may even rack up millions of views while doing so. But, unsurprisingly, the risks are incredible.
“A lot of times, this all goes back to the fact that you have that outside protective near enamel. If you’re shaving too much with your nail file, you could get into the dentin, that inside part with the sensitivity tutorials. And you could have permanent damage and permanent sensitivity if you were to do that and now if you’re doing it way too much, it will look great, but you will have extremely sensitive teeth. So every time you drink like an ice cold coffee, or you’re eating ice cream, those front teeth, it’s going to be extremely painful. And worse, if you keep filing them down shorter and shorter. And just to make them straighter, you could eventually expose a nerve and damage it and cause an infection,” explains Dr. Saw.
The recommended alternative is a treatment called odontoplasty and enameloplasty, which many dentists offer. A type of sanding disk is used to minimally shave the tooth to the desired shape. Plus, it’s on the less expensive side of treatments, said Dr. Saw.
Hydrogen Peroxide to Whiten the Teeth
Last year, hydrogen peroxide took over on TikTok as a handy way to whiten the teeth by swishing the liquid through your mouth, while others chose to apply it with a Q-tip before leaving it for five minutes. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the ingredients commonly found on at-home whitening strips.
This trend sits on the fence for Dr. Saw, who said that it can be done effectively and safely with some precautions. Although applying it with a Q-tip is not recommended, rinsing the mouth with it is, and Dr. Saw even uses it in her dental practice before patients sit in the chair.
However, it’s important for the liquid to be diluted with water first in a one-to-five dilution, rather than straight from the bottle.
“I think just like with everything in life you should use it with moderation. I would say a couple times a week is fine. But not something that’s daily, it’s always that moderation so I don’t think there is any harm,” she says .
You may remember, or have been traumatized by the clips on your For You Page of people showing off their freshly shaven down stubs before they completed their “veneers” but it’s not all it seems, says Dr. Saw.
The transformations see people having their teeth shaved down and replaced with “veneers,” giving a straighter, larger and whiter smile. But what is often claimed to be veneers are actually very different full-coverage crowns, according to Dr, Saw.
“The TikTok trend out there where they’re calling ‘veneer checks,’ that’s more of like a full coverage crown check. It’s a little bit more aggressive preparation. I do [full-coverage crowns] but I only do it for those people who’ve had a lot of cavities on that tooth that we would already have had to remove that tooth structure anyway,” she says.
Actual veneers instead are not shaved down to those tiny stubs we see online, but instead it’s a lot more minimal. “When veneers are done correctly. It is very, very minimal to shave the teeth. And it’s just more of like sanding the teeth so that we have the ability to place that porcelain veneer on top,” says Dr. Saw.
As mentioned by Dr. Saw, full coverage crowns, which are shaved much further down, are often advised only for those with cavities that would require the shaving to remove them anyway. Those with otherwise healthy teeth may find themselves with issues from over-shaving unnecessarily.
“The more tooth structure we have, the more strongly supported, it’s always best to have the most natural tooth structure. You’re at less of a risk of breaking that tooth,” says Dr. Saw.
Mouthwash and Toothpaste Dispenser
In July, TikTok users began mixing equal parts toothpaste and mouthwash and decanting it into a soap dispenser for an easy all-in-one.
It might be easy, but the hack is actually extremely damaging to teeth, says Dr. Saw. “The reason that we put toothpaste in a non-clear container, usually in a silver tube, is because it’s not UV stable,” she explains. “So when you expose the toothpaste to the light, it just makes it less efficacious over time.”
Rubbing mouthwash into your teeth with a toothbrush has the potential to cause harm in itself too. “Mouthwash tends to be very acidic. Your teeth will dissolve at a pH of about 5.5 or below. Now, if you are mixing mouthwash, which is acidic and generally the larger brands have a pH of 5.5 or below, you’re not only mixing acidic mouthwash and toothpaste that’s going to degrade over time, you’re brushing acid into your teeth, and you’re also not having those protective factors in the toothpaste because you’ve put it into a new clear jar,” explains Dr. Saw.
“So it’s probably the worst combination out there for you. You just made everything extremely ineffective.”