Protect Your Teen's Smile from Internet Influencers

It’s no secret that the internet and social media can be risky for impressionable kids. From unrealistic standards of beauty and outright foolish “challenges'', threats to mental health and physical well-being are everywhere. Here’s another potential hazard to add to the list: internet influencers. Social media-savvy personalities who have amassed a huge audience and can persuade their followers to act based on their recommendations, can have a negative effect on the oral health of your child.

While some influencers may have subject matter expertise and thoroughly research the topics they discuss, others may not even reasonably think through the recommendations they present to their young followers. It is important that parents learn about the costly and long-term effects these recommendations can have on their teen’s oral health.

Here are three unhealthy internet trends that can have a detrimental impact to dental health:

1. The pursuit of the “perfect” smile.

Unrealistic beauty standards are not a new phenomena and are certainly not unique to the internet, however since the advent of the selfie and the image-obsessed culture that permeates social media, it seems some teens and young adults are willing to go to extremes to get “the perfect smile.”

At-home teeth whitening

There is nothing wrong with wanting a brighter smile, however, parents should be aware of the methods and products kids use on their pearly whites. There has been an alarming trend in the use of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to whiten teeth. But even harmless sounding products–like those containing charcoal or baking soda–are highly abrasive, while others may include acidic ingredients like lemon juice. While these “natural” ingredients may seem safe, they can wear away the tooth enamel that protects the inner structure of the tooth called dentin. Although tooth enamel is naturally white, it can become stained. Dentin, however, is naturally yellow, so if too much of the enamel is worn away during the whitening process, the teeth will appear more yellow (and be more susceptible to decay!)

Other popular whitening techniques, such as swishing with peroxide, can be damaging to the gums. Talk to your dentist about the best products to use to whiten teeth at home. 

For more information about at-home whitening techniques to avoid, check out this video: 

DIY dentistry

For those who cannot afford professional cosmetic dentistry, the internet offers an almost unlimited supply of ill-informed advice and unwise tutorials about how to achieve results yourself. In an effort to get the “perfect smile” on the cheap, teens are taking outrageous chances with their oral health that can have devastating and permanent consequences.

  • Using rubber bands to close gaps in front teeth: Bands can slip beneath the gum line and apply enough pressure to the roots of the teeth so that they eventually fall out. Or gums can become infected and require surgery to remove the bands like in this case (warning: graphic images)

    Kids have also attempted to make DIY braces using earring backs, paperclips and rubber bands. This video explains why that is a VERY bad idea.

  • A craze that hit TikTok during the pandemic lockdowns encouraged teens to use nail files to smooth out uneven or ridged teeth. Filing causes irreparable damage to the tooth enamel, leaving teeth more sensitive to heat or cold and more susceptible to decay.   

Oral piercings

Although piercings are certainly nothing new, the problem arises when kids consider getting some sort of oral piercing, either in their lip or tongue, and consult YouTube or TikTok for information from other young people who’ve done their piercings themselves. While it is commendable to attempt researching before getting a piercing instead of impulsively doing so, the experiences shared online are often only detailing the process itself–how much it hurts, how long it takes to heal–but not the risks, which include:

  • swelling and bleeding while the piercing heals (which for a tongue piercing can take weeks even under ideal circumstances)
  • lacerations, scarring and keloid formation (extra fibrous scar tissue)
    infection and discharge (Your mouth is home to BILLIONS of microbes, so infections are common.)
  • damaged teeth, which occurs in 26% of all tongue piercings
  • gum recession caused by the jewelry rubbing against the gums. Healthy gums are essential if you want to keep your teeth.
  • embedded jewelry must be surgically removed, which can be expensive and painful
  • jewelry can interfere with speech and chewing and cause excessive drooling
  • the airway can become blocked due to swelling or inhaling loose jewelry
  • swallowing sharp posts can be especially dangerous

If your teen has their heart set on getting an oral piercing and won’t listen to the warnings of your family dentist, maybe they’ll listen to this guy, who has been a professional body piercer since 1994:

3. Veneers instead of orthodontic treatment

The final trend we would like to warn parents about is taking a short-cut to straight teeth with the placement of veneers. Cosmetic dentistry does serve a good purpose when needed, and veneers that are placed properly are not an issue. However, that is not what many of the social media influencers are touting. Instead, they are having 10-20 healthy teeth filed down to stumps to place “veneers” (that are actually crowns.)

The influencers that get this done may tell you about the process, but they are unlikely to  share the long-term consequences of having a mouth full of "veneers" (likely because they are not aware of the challenges they are signing up for.) Potential for complications including infections and tooth fractures are high, especially since the “veneer” will need to be replaced every 10-15 years. Each time they are replaced, there is a high risk of losing the original tooth.

Always talk to a reputable dentist when considering veneers, and don’t attempt to replace orthodontic treatment with anything that seems like a quick fix. Although it takes longer, orthodontic care will have more positive long-term results. 

Other resources to educate your teen about the topics discussed above:

Teeth Talk Girl: TikTok Dental Trends are Destroying People’s Teeth

Teeth Talk Girl: Stop Chasing TikTok & Social Media Dental Trends

Orthotropics: Please don’t do this…

Dr. Gurs Sehmi: The Truth about Dental Veneers in Turkey

KCTV5 News: Orthodontist sounds alarm about disturbing DIY trend

NBC2 News: Do-It-Yourself Dentistry becoming disturbing trend among children

Teeth Talk Girl: Scaling Your Own Teeth at Home? Here is Why it’s a Bad Idea

How Oral Piercings Impact Oral Health (Dentistry IQ)

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