The history of smiles is, of course, as long as the history of man. Before speech, there was always that international universal language – the smile. Everybody knows what a smile means. Everybody knows how important a smile is. And everybody knows that if we don’t brush our teeth, our smile won’t be so attractive. But teeth and smiles haven’t always been as bright as they are today. Way back then, people didn’t have the means that we have today to keep their teeth white. They used some pretty crude methods of teeth whitening. So let’s look back at the history of teeth whitening and find out how people did keep their teeth white.
Can you imagine people way back in 3000 BC using toothbrushes? Well, they weren’t what we know as toothbrushes today. And they didn’t call them toothbrushes, either. They called them “chew sticks”. They were actually just small branches, with one end frayed. They’d rub them on their teeth to scrape off any particles.
Chew sticks must have worked because, believe it or not, they’re still in use in some of the more underdeveloped parts of the world. I don’t know if it’s fair to call Shreveport, Louisiana underdeveloped, but according to dentists, there’s an old man living near there, who brushed his teeth with a white elm chew stick all his life, and he had healthy gums, with no plaque buildup.
The first bristle toothbrushes, similar to what we use today, were used in China around 1498. The bristles were made from the tough hair on the back of Siberian hogs’ necks, and were stuck into handles made from bamboo or bone. European traders visiting China took this crude model home with them, but were met with much resistance from the refined Europeans.
At that time, Europeans weren’t very good at brushing their teeth. Only the upper class did so, and they used soft horsehair toothbrushes. Or they followed the old Roman custom of picking their teeth after a meal, using brass or silver toothpicks. So the rough hogs-hair models weren’t too popular. Experiments were done with other animals, like badgers, trying to find the right hair for toothbrushes. But hogs-hair was the accepted norm for the day.
It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur, the French bacteriologist, introduced the idea of germs, that people took any notice of what they were putting into their mouths. But when they started to think about what could be on the bristles from the animals, and how their gums could get infected from the bacteria, then a replacement was sought. But it wasn’t until many years later that one was found.
When Du Pont discovered nylon in 1938, they found all kinds of uses for it. It was tough, stiff, resilient, resistant to wear and tear, moisture-proof (so it didn’t stay wet and collect bacteria) – it was perfect for the bristles on a toothbrush. So they introduced Dr. West’s Miracle Tuft Toothbrush, and went on a powerful marketing campaign across the United States, telling people of the drawbacks to hog-hair toothbrushes, and of the joys of nylon-bristle ones.
Unfortunately, the first nylon was very stiff and damaged people’s gums, to the extent that dentists wouldn’t recommend them. But by 1950, Du Pont had developed soft nylon, and their new offering to the public was the Park Avenue Toothbrush – an expensive, but much more comfortable model.
In 1961, technology was applied to the toothbrush. People wanted everything to be electric, so the Squibb Company introduced the Broxodent, the first electric toothbrush. It automatically brushed up and down, which met with the approval of the American Dental Association (ADA). Then General Electric one-upped Squibb by inventing a cordless battery-operated toothbrush that could be recharged. There’s a whole line of those available today, even a sonic toothbrush.
Most people today opt for the simple manual nylon-bristle toothbrush. But the ADA, although they approve of this teeth whitening method, warn people of the downside – many people keep their toothbrushes too long before replacing them. They say you should buy a new toothbrush before the bristles get bent because then they don’t do a good job of cleaning your teeth, and they can damage your gums.
Now we’ll look at the history of toothpaste. Egyptians actually used a toothpaste in 2000 BC, made of powdered pumice stone and wine vinegar, brushed on with a chew stick. As fowl as that sounds, it’s nothing compared to how gross the Romans’ toothpaste was. It was made from human urine! First-century Roman doctors believed that urine whitened teeth and also kept them firmly in place. Yuk!
But it must have worked, because it was used as an active ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash well into the 18th century. Would you believe it’s still used today? Not in its original form, but modern dentists recognized that it was the ammonia that cleaned the teeth, and they still use that.
The old red-and-white barber pole was what you looked for if you wanted your teeth whitened. Barbers doubled as dental surgeons, mainly for pulling teeth. But they also whitened teeth. A sparkling smile was a valued thing in those days. It must have been – the barber-surgeons would file down a patient’s teeth with a type of metal file, then dab them with highly-corrosive nitric acid. Talk about cosmetic dentistry! This definitely whitened the teeth, but it also destroyed the enamel, which led to the eventual decaying of the teeth. But the all-important flashing smile motivated people to continue this acid cleaning into the 18th century.
In 1802 Italian dentists noticed yellowish-brown spots on their patients’ teeth. Their research led them to the conclusion that the spots came from a reaction between tooth enamel and a high level of fluorides in the soil and water. But although the spots were kind of ugly, the teeth were totally healthy – no cavities. So fluoride became recognized as a good thing.
In the 1840s, Italian and French dentists recommended people should start at a young age, sucking on honey-sweetened, fluoride lozenges. The value of fluoride was increasing. In fact, in 1915, American scientists experimented with adding fluoride to drinking water. They were so encouraged by the positive results, that the use of fluorides spread from water to mouthwashes and toothpastes, drastically cutting down on cavities.
But today, too much fluoride can cause stains on teeth. Dentists have found that many children who brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste swallow it instead of spitting it out. And that causes a discoloration on the teeth later in life. And with research, a list of other things that cause stained teeth has been identified.
Today, we’re still vainly trying to impress everyone with a dazzling smile. But there’s nothing that’ll ruin it like discoloration and staining. So dentists are advising us to stay away from all those things that spoil our white teeth. They call them chromogenic agents, and they include medications (especially tetracycline), coffee, tea, tobacco (smoking or chewing) and red wine. Actually, it’s not realistic to expect us to stay away from all those things, but at least we know what causes the discoloration.
So teeth whitening is the focus of many people today, all around the world. There is a growing demand for cosmetic dentistry in North America and the teeth-whitening industry has picked up on this, and answered the call. For example, take a survey done in 2002 by the ADA and Colgate, in which dentists said the fastest-growing part of their business was teeth whitening, with a 25.1% growth rate. And the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry says the number of teeth whitening and bleaching procedures being done has increased more than 300% over the past 5 years.
There are a number of at-home teeth whitening systems and products available. You can go on the Internet and have all the information you need. You’ll find things like Day White® Excel 3 by Discus Dental – a whole teeth whitening system. Or if you already have the system, you can get Opalescence® PF Gel by Ultradent. And of course, there’s the standard Oral-B® Toothbrush, with a whole line of toothbrushes, from soft to hard, for children or adults, power or manual.
And if you’d like to have a professional do your teeth whitening, then you can have the BriteSmile Professional Teeth Whitening treatment, that’s done in the dentist’s office in an hour. Or if you just want to go to the drugstore and buy a teeth whitening system, you can do that, too. There’s the now-famous Crest White Strips, strips that you put on your teeth for a short period of time. And other companies have similar products, like Ultra-White, which was developed by a Cosmetic Dentist in 1996. They’ve been online since 1997 and are doing a booming business.
There are other names in the teeth whitening industry, too, like Du-More, Ranir, Rembrandt, Den-Mat, and GoSmile, just to mention a few. The result can be seen as you walk down the street, or as you look around the room at a party, or as you watch TV or a movie. There are brighter whiter smiles wherever you go. And if you want to add yours, get the latest teeth whitening system and join the crowd. You’ll feel more confident about yourself. You’ll be more willing to flash your beautiful smile. And the world will be full of miles of smiles!
Consult with a San Diego cosmetic dentist about any dental plans and problems.
Gareth Marples is a freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.