Reports of illegal teeth-whitening procedures that can lead to patients experiencing burns or lost teeth have increased exponentially, according to the BBC.
The General Dental Council (GDC) has found that rogue procedures being used to make teeth appear whiter such as the use of harmful chemicals and unapproved treatments have risen by 26% in the space of a year.
Currently, teeth whitening is only legally permitted to be performed in the UK by professionals registered with the GDC. However, illegitimate qualifications are being handed out to thousands of practitioners who lack sufficient training.
The rise in untrained beauticians using teeth whitening kits have led to patients experiencing tooth loss, burns and blisters. Worryingly, this rise in damaging teeth whitening procedures has been exacerbated by an unhealthy obsession with bright white teeth on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
The Pursuit of Perfection Online
The rise of social media has been nothing short of meteoric, but the notion of using networks to connect with friends and family seem to have been swept up in a huge ecosystem of influencers, viral content and life hacks.
Writing for Raconteur, Daniela Morosini noted that platforms like Instagram have become something of a successor to fashion magazines when it comes to beauty ideals. “Sometimes a scapegoat, sometimes an arbiter, but undoubtedly a leader,” Morosini explained when describing the role of the social network.
The rise of Instagram coincided with the rise of selfie culture – leading to a brand new emphasis among users on the perfect smile.
Scrolling through Instagram in 2020 will reveal countless images of clear, crystal-white smiles from influencers with large followings and celebrities alike who can boast unrealistically bright teeth.
Having bright smiles is a key selling point for social media users with large followings, and adverts for DIY whitening kits or charcoal toothpaste tend to follow closely behind the pearly whites of influencers on networks.
The arrival of various filters on social networking sites have noticeably changed the expectations of users who feel the need to modify the appearance of their teeth. Cosmetic dentist, Dr Rhona Eskander said: “I used to have people who would come in and say they wanted teeth like Kate Middleton or Margot Robbie. But now they come and want to look like the filtered version of themselves: teeth very large, very white and very neat.”
Filters provide social network users with the ability to see instantly enhanced versions of themselves in a manner that can be impossible to replicate in a real-world environment. “The levels of perfection you can reach with one of those filters is startling,” Dr Eskander says.
(Image: The Economist)
As the chart above shows, Instagram’s repeated representations of warping natural beauty hasn’t lead to much satisfaction among the app’s userbase. Only 37% of users are happy with the time they spend on the platform – with many becoming more unhappy as they spend around 60 minutes uploading images and browsing.
The Return of DIY and Backstreet Dentistry
The arrival of TikTok into the social media fold has been explosive. Coming from humble beginnings to host over 800 million active users worldwide, TikTok is a modern success story in a social landscape that’s generally been dominated by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for around a decade.
However, TikTok has rarely steered clear of controversy. While this may be unsurprising given that the platform is built on users uploading videos from around the world in ever-increasing volumes, the app has caused plenty of concern with its regulations surrounding content that promotes harmful beauty treatments.
Life-hack videos have become increasingly popular on the social network, where users make videos of useful practical tips on beauty fixes, convenient gadgets, food recipes and how to save money at certain restaurants.
However, while many of these hacks can be beneficial for users, due to the difficulty TikTok is having in regulating their videos, there’s a worrying rise in more harmful content that medical professionals wouldn’t recommend trying.
One of the most notable videos in this sinister trend can be found in a new viral teeth whitening hack that’s collectively amassed millions of views.
One TikTok user went viral after claiming that she used 3% hydrogen peroxide to whiten her teeth. The user took a cotton swab and gently glazed her teeth with the solution in the video. However, the legal limit of hydrogen peroxide that non-dental professionals are allowed to use on teeth in the UK stands at 0.1% – meaning in this instance the user was significantly over the limit.
Speaking to Health.com, dentist and Waterpik spokesperson Chris Strandberg explained: “Prolonged bleaching with these high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, especially when used multiple days in a row, can lead to highly irritated gums and sensitive teeth.”
“Gum irritation can get severe if more bleaching is done when the gums are already irritated. Tooth sensitivity is usually temporary, but significant bleaching can increase tooth sensitivity permanently with long term use.”
The Social Surge in Cosmetic Dentistry
The global cosmetic dentistry market is growing at a faster rate in the age of social media. The arrival of COVID-19 has carried a surprising effect on people who, despite largely finding themselves in a state of lockdown and social isolation over the course of 2020, have in fact caused a boom in cosmetic dentistry.
The Daily Telegraph anticipates that isolation has caused more people to spend time looking in the mirror at home – leading to more dissatisfaction with their image. However, Dentistry.co.uk has pinned the anticipated boom in cosmetics on the rise in prevalence of Zoom meetings, and how users have become increasingly body-conscious on video.
One of the most popular developments in cosmetic dentistry has stemmed from the rise of veneers – made increasingly popular by Instagram. The dental procedure involves placing bright white shells on top of your existing teeth to create a brand new artificial smile. While it may involve varying levels of tooth filing, plenty of celebrities and influencers alike have jumped on the expensive trend. However, with the cost per tooth rising to as much as £400, it may go some way towards explaining why social media users are embracing the use of hazardous chemicals as an alternative in finding the bright smiles of their influential idols.
The likes of picture and video-based social networks have pushed the idea that glistening white smiles are only obtainable through extreme measures, such as illegal dental procedures, hazardous DIY hacks or spending £1,000s on cosmetics. However, plenty of alternative solutions exist that can help to steadily build a white smile among users. Crest’s 3D Whitestrips are a safe product that is available from under £20. Elsewhere, whitening toothpaste from brands like Colgate can play a significant role in brightening smiles without users having to resort to drastic measures.
Time For More Social Body Positivity
The arrival of social networking sites has worked wonders in enabling us to keep in touch with old friends from across the world while following the trials and tribulations of public figures who we enjoy interacting with.
While platforms like Instagram have helped us to gain regular glimpses into the lives of the people we follow, the social network has been readily linked to higher levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO (fear of missing out).
One of the more disappointing factors that may be behind the negative side-effects of social media usage may stem from the superficiality behind the images we see and the filters they’ve gone through before being presented to us.
In seeing filtered perfection in the people we follow, we may become more conscious of our own imperfections. Filters may show our teeth to be whiter than reality, but our willingness to harm ourselves to mimic the level of perfection we see on our handheld devices has led to surges in illegal dentistry and damaging quick fixes.
In a future that lacks regulation, or acknowledgements that images have been filtered or edited before publication both on social sites or anywhere else online, we may see more extreme home dentistry measures come into play.
However, with nations like France moving to label photoshopped images, there’s some hope for the rest of the digital world to catch on and act – before more impressionable social media users begin to seek out extreme ways of chasing perfection.
(Syndicated press content)