Watch enough TikTok videos and you’re sure to see one touting a particular kind of do-it-yourself dentistry. It’s not about brushing or flossing, except maybe flossing strands of hair. These are videos about drilling into your teeth and cementing gemstones or filing your teeth to reshape them.
People have been combing their teeth for centuries all over the world, in North and South America, Africa and Asia. But social media — especially TikTok, where everything old and new is tucked away in short videos with trendy sounds and served fresh to young eyes — has breathed life into trends like dental gems. Celebrities such as Drake, Rihanna and Bella Hadid wore them years ago. Now, some TikTok influencers are selling DIY gem kits.
But it does not stop there. There are DIY tooth replacement kits and dazzling grills available online for less than $25, as well as recipes for homemade toothpaste and whitening treatments. The TikTok hashtag #DIYdentist has 2.6 million views. That’s enough to make any licensed dentist or orthodontist cringe.
Professionals agree that DIY dentistry is a terrible idea. Dental care can be expensive, and orthodontic treatments are generally considered cosmetic and not covered by dental insurance, which 65 million Americans don’t have. And, according to the 2020 Annual Review of Public Health report, people with low income, uninsured, members of racial minority groups, immigrants or living in rural areas are more likely to have poor oral health.
So, is the high cost of dental care driving these viral trends among young people, or is it the lure of supposedly painless, instantly changed smiles?
Dr. Ruchi Sahota, a dentist in Fremont, Calif., and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, said she can see why patients want to try DIY dentistry at home. “I do not know how [they] could do it safely,” she said, including changing the shape of their teeth. While tooth filing is something a dentist may do to smooth out imperfections or create space between teeth while treating braces, for example, some people do it themselves to smooth out chips in braces. teeth or create vampire fangs for aesthetic reasons. “When we practice dentistry, we do it with the basic information from years of training, X-rays and experience that helps us decide when and how to do the treatment,” Sahota said.
Even dental gems applied correctly with oral bonding materials are troublesome, she says, because they “add something to your teeth that will also attract bacteria.” You increase your risk of cavities, gum infections. And you increase your risk of chipped teeth, inflammation inside your mouth.
The DIY prices are definitely part of the appeal. On Amazon, a 25-piece dental gem kit retailed for $12.99 from Todiamo, a brand that also sells children’s earwax removal tools, waterproof adhesive plasters and chainsaw chains. The kit comes with 10 rhinestones, a mini-LED key ring to cure the adhesive, four wooden sticks, five disposable applicator brushes and five cotton rolls.
But no manual.
Reviews on Amazon complained about the gems not sticking. Some have suggested using nail glue, which is toxic and can damage tooth enamel. But among Amazon’s “frequently bought together” suggestions: a bottle of epoxy resin glue.
A gold-plated single prong grill faceplate for $7.98 from TCOTBE and a set of silver-plated brass faceplates for $10.99 from OOCC both advertised as “one size fits all,” but reviewers said the opposite. “Save your money and use (old fashioned) foil if you want a grill lol,” one shopper warned. Bleeding gums were a common complaint among reviewers.
Perhaps the most bizarre DIY find was a temporary dental repair kit for less than $25 from CZsy. It came with various shaped plastic “veneers” for missing teeth and moldable plastic beads for repairs.
There were no printed instructions either, but these were buried in the product description on Amazon’s site:
- Immerse in hot water over 130 degrees for about two minutes.
- Shape the size you want.
No company or website information could be found for some of these brands, but the products had one thing in common: a barcode sticker that read “Made in China.” Instead of responding to a request from KHN for an explanation of its policies, Amazon removed the replacement teeth listing. The other items were still available to order at the time of publication.
It’s not just DIY dentistry that gives licensed professionals a toothache. Salespeople touting certificates for applying composite veneers and partials — dentures that replace missing teeth when someone still has several natural teeth in place — are springing up on social media. Vendors like Marie’s Beauty Bar in Philadelphia will apply composite veneers to less-than-perfect smiles — in this case, starting at $1,999 an hour with a $499 deposit — as a cheaper alternative to porcelain veneers, which require shaving natural teeth. The dealer advertises veneer training for $5,999. Marie’s Beauty Bar did not respond to emails or voicemails seeking comment.
DIY dentistry is not just a phenomenon of young people on social networks. “There are teens, teens, and even adults trying these things,” said Dr. Amber Bonnaig, a dentist in Marietta, Georgia, and state director of Boston-based DentaQuest. “A major contributing factor is lack of access to dental care.”
DIY can appear to be a viable alternative, especially since someone whose teeth are badly damaged, suffers severe pain, or has mounting dental bills to repair DIY damage rarely shows disappointing results on TikTok. Social media users, for the most part, post carefully curated highlights, not unwanted reactions.
“The ‘cool thing’ right now is all these hacks to supposedly make things easier or more accessible,” she said. Caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware, she warned. The reviews of influencers who often receive free services in exchange for promotional posts can be biased. Bonnaig warned that complications could arise days, weeks or months after treatment.
Even when people dare not drill their teeth, they can wreak havoc with other social trends like drinking “healthy coke”, a concoction of balsamic vinegar – which has a higher acid content than the drink. real soda – and flavored soda water. This is a recipe for severe tooth enamel erosion.
Sahota has seen what these viral trends can do. “Patients drank or drank lemon water, or maybe apple cider vinegar, and it caused acid or erosions on their teeth,” she said. “Patients will say, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, I saw online that, you know, it’s going to be better for my health. And so I do it every night. That’s when I’ll bring a mirror and show them exactly how this trend affects your teeth.
These inexpensive hacks can end up costing patients much more in the long run. Sahota suggested that consumers looking for safe ways to improve their smile can browse products on the Mouth Healthy site that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Bonnaig and Sahota both implore patients to discuss their oral and cosmetic issues with a dentist.
Every tooth and every mouth is unique, and there is no sure and unique DIY. “You can have a beautiful smile,” Sahota said, “even if it’s not perfect.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
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