October 22, 2021
by Clara Jones
Up-and-coming social media platform TikTok has well over 1.29 billion active users who post and view short clips on a plethora of different topics, including dental and oral hygiene. Unfortunately, as trendy and popular as these videos are among Gen-Zers, they are all too often based on a poor understanding of dental science. This means that they can leave the people who follow their advice with expensive, and often permanent, oral health issues.
In many cases, the damage caused by these viral videos is already permanent and cannot be undone. However, it’s essential for dentists and dental hygienists to compete with and combat the poor and often dangerous dental advice shared on TikTok. Dental hygienists, in particular, tend to see younger patients on a more regular basis and can correctly educate Gen X about their oral health.
One TikTok trend, started by user @GypsyLou, has suggested that prosthetic teeth are easily recreated using cheap InstaMorph beads. The video quickly went viral, much to dentists’ dismay as she inspired thousands of followers to follow suit. Obviously, a professional should always create and fit prosthetics to minimize the risk of tooth and gum damage.
Another viral TikTok video encouraged viewers to use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to whiten their teeth. In the video posted by @heatherdunn, the TikToker advised against using fluoride and fluoride-based products on teeth, noting that she didn’t care about all the dentists who would inevitably refute her opinion. The Mr. Clean Magic Erasers the TikToker used to make her video contain sulfurous acid and formaldehyde. These are two ingredients that are potentially hazardous to human health and can cause chemical burns and severe damage to the gums and teeth.
In yet another video that has since garnered nearly 10 million views, a young member of Gen-Z wrapped her front teeth with elastic hair ties to “close the gap between her front teeth in three days.” She also posted a follow-up clip showing off the results of her efforts, and another that mocked the dentists who responded to her home dental job with deep concern.
Alas, the dental experts were right.
The actions shown in the video can restrict blood flow to the teeth, change their color, and even lead to tooth loss. The elastic bands can also promote gum inflammation and infection, which can be dangerous and challenging to treat.
Worse still, some TikTok users have also taken to applying a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution directly to their teeth in a bid to whiten them. Others have encouraged their viewers to floss their teeth with human hair. While it’s true that tooth whitening strips do contain hydrogen peroxide, applying an undiluted solution to the teeth can cause extensive erosion, leading to accelerated demineralization, decay, and ultimately, tooth loss as well. As for human hair floss, dental floss is specifically designed to clean the small spaces between your teeth safely and optimally. There’s simply no need for a replacement.
Last, but certainly not least, one of the most extreme TikTok trends has seen people filing their teeth down into narrow pegs so that they can fit cheap, poorly made veneers or crowns. Many dentists have noted in the replies that veneers usually require little to no preparation, let alone filing your teeth down. But these videos still continue to appear and are shared on the platform with concerning frequency.
Ultimately, it’s dental hygienists who bear the brunt of the bad and dangerous dental care advice shared on TikTok. It’s also up to dental hygienists to correct this advice with more sound and health-promoting tips. This goes a long way towards minimizing the harm done and educates people about how to properly look after their teeth and mouths.
TikTok may be full of awful dental advice. However, it’s also a social media platform that’s ideal for reaching out to new patients and educating users about how to do things safely. Many dental professionals have started their own TikTok channels warning against hazardous practices and recommending safer, affordable alternatives.
As a dental hygienist concerned about the health of your younger patients, you may wish to consider starting your own TikTok account to combat some of the inaccurate viral advice circulating the web. There are also a few alternative ways to reach your patients before it’s too late and they need extensive, expensive dental work to repair the damage done!
Lastly, it’s also important to consider the cost factor involved. Many of your younger patients may consider these DIY oral health hacks a great way to save money and still have a bright and healthy smile. Remind them that long-term, often irreversible damage is never worth the short-term savings.
Poor dental care advice has been circulating the internet for decades, and TikTok is merely the latest carrier of this misleading information. Unfortunately, the platform’s users are particularly vulnerable to bad advice as the majority of TikTok users are in their teens and early 20s.
Dental hygienists should take proactive steps to warn their patients about the dangers of following unfounded advice or believing myths or misinformation. And about the long-term impacts and damage that may occur.
If the platform spreads damaging information, it can also be used to spread the correct messages.
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