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Dentists across Australia are seeing complications from at-home aligners, make-your-own teeth whitening paste, DIY orthodontics – which includes fashioning ‘braces’ out of rubber bands –and shaping teeth with anything from nail files to sandpaper.
“Life hack” videos on TikTok show people whitening teeth with purple shampoo, Bentonite clay, baking soda, eggshells, and even Magic Eraser stain removers, or instructing their followers on how they used rubber bands to get perfectly aligned teeth “without ever needing to see a dentist”.
Many of the procedures are irreversible, leading the Australian Dental Association President to warn young people against trying “dodgy trends” they see online.
“People are getting chemical burns from abrasive products they are being sold on TikTok like charcoal toothpaste. Others are mixing their own bleach at home to whiten their teeth,” he told The Australian.
“The worst case I’ve seen is someone who overused an at-home whitening product causing their tooth to die and turn black. She ended up needing a root canal.”
Another online trend called “banding” involves placing elastic bands on teeth to close the gaps.
“One patient tried to close the gap in her teeth herself and a rubber band got stuck in her gums. She ended up having a severe gum infection and losing a tooth,” he said.
Dr Cai said TikTok, and the beauty expectations that come with the app, was “definitely the culprit”.
“The sort of damage we see isn’t common. So, you have to prod the patient and eventually they’ll say, ‘I tried this thing on TikTok’.”
The Head Dentist at Bupa Dental, which is the largest dental care network in Australia, said their practitioners were noticing a “persistent growing trend” of patients with telltale signs and damage from DIY work. “Many of whom are dental-phobic, couldn’t afford treatment or have seen something online,” Dr Cathryn Madden said.
“I was naive. I always wanted to align my teeth, but I didn’t have the funds at the time.
“A lot of other social media influencers would post about their journey and say, ‘this is a convenient option, you save money, and it works. You don‘t have to go to a dentist’. So, I fell into that trap,” she said.
At-home aligner companies, which heavily market to young people on social media, typically supply patients with materials to create dental moulds at home, which are then used to make a clear aligner. The process is overseen by dentists, according to the companies.
Five months into her treatment, Ms Nguyen noticed her teeth were shifting apart.
“It shifted my jaw. When I visually saw my teeth were moving apart, I went to an orthodontist to get their opinion. And of course, he said ‘This isn’t safe for your teeth. You need to be having regular check-ups because your teeth are moving so quickly in such a short time’.”
The company told her it was normal but a few months later she stopped using the product. She told her followers: “This was a silly decision on my part. Don’t do it.”
Melbourne cosmetic dentist Minoo Ghamari works with a number of patients who want to reverse or fix poor at-home aligner jobs.
“Sometimes we cannot fix what is already ruined. If you push the tooth too far outwards, don’t remove enamel from around the tooth so there is room for the teeth to move, or get root resorption and gum recession, they are permanent. You will deal with sensitivity for life,” she said.
ADA President Stephen Liew warned young people not to “follow dodgy trends on social media” like make-your-own tooth whitener, banding or tooth shaping. “A quick fix is a quick fail,” he said.
“We may not hear about the problems until it goes horribly wrong like you lose your entire enamel surface from using a highly abrasive charcoal for years.”
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