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A Brief History of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening has become one of the more popular services offered by dentists. It’s fast, safe and effective.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of trial and error to get to this point, though.

4,000 years ago, the Egyptians created a whitening paste using ground pumice stone and wine vinegar. While it was effective in whitening teeth, it was also damaging as the stone would cut abrasions in the enamel and the vinegar’s acid would seep in and rot the teeth for the inside.

The Romans learned from the Egyptian experience and found a way to whiten teeth without stone. Their solution was to use their urine. Yes, that’s right, they would rub pee on their teeth as the ammonia was (and is) an effective bleaching agent.

In the Middle Ages and into the Age of Enlightenment, people stopped drinking their own urine to get whiter teeth, and instead visited their barbers who, at the time, were hair and teeth experts. They would file teeth down and then apply a whitening acid. Like the Egyptian method, it was effective in whitening teeth, but it eroded the enamel and led to tooth decay.

Unlike these historical attempts at whitening teeth, today’s teeth whitening method (hydrogen or carbamide peroxide) was discovered very much by accident. The chemical had been used as an oral antiseptic for gums, and when dentists turned it into a gel to keep it on people’s teeth for longer periods of time, they noticed that teeth got whiter as a result. And voila…a safe, smooth and urine-free way to whiten teeth was born.