Watch enough TikTok videos and you’re sure to see someone praising a particular type of do-it-yourself dentistry. Not about brushing and flossing, except maybe flossing your hairs. These are videos on how to drill into your teeth and attach gems to them or sharpen your teeth to reshape them.
People have been styling teeth for centuries across the globe in North and South America, Africa and Asia. But social media – especially TikTok, where everything old and new is swathed into short videos with trendy audio and suitable for young eyes – has breathed life into trends like gems. Famous people such as Drake, Rihanna and Bella Hadid wore them years ago. Currently, several TikTok influencers are selling DIY gem kits.
But it doesn’t stop there. There are homemade tooth replacement kits and grills available online for under $25, and homemade toothpaste recipes and whitening treatments. The hashtag #DIYdentist on TikTok has 2.6 million views. It is enough to amaze any licensed dentist or orthodontist.
Experts all agree that DIY dentistry is a very bad idea. Dental care can be expensive and orthodontic treatment is often considered cosmetic and not covered by dental insurance – this 65 million Americans do not have. And, according to Report “Annual assessment of public health” in 2020those with low income, no insurance, members of ethnic minorities, immigrants or living in rural areas are more likely to have poor oral health.
So is the high cost of dental treatment driving these viral trends among young people, or is it the lure of supposedly painless, instant-changing smiles?
Dr. Ruchi Sahota, a dentist in Fremont, California and a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, says she can understand why patients would want to try doing their own dentistry at home. “I just don’t know how [they] can do it safely,” she says, specifically changing the shape of their teeth. For example, while filing is something a dentist can do to smooth imperfections or create space between teeth during braces treatment, some people do it themselves to smooth out debris in their teeth. teeth or create vampire-like fangs for cosmetic reasons. “When we practice dentistry, we do it with background information about years of training, x-rays, and experience that helps us decide when and how to treat,” says Sahota.
Even dental gems applied precisely with oral bonding materials are troublesome, she says, because they “add something to your teeth that will also attract bacteria. You are at increased risk of tooth decay and gum infection. And you’re increasing your risk of chipping your teeth and getting an infection inside your mouth.”
The do-it-yourself price is definitely part of the appeal. On Amazon, one Gemstone set 25 pieces on sale for $12.99 from Tondiamo, a brand that also sells children’s earwax, waterproof tape, and saw chains. The set comes with 10 rhinestones, a mini LED keychain to cure glue stains, four wooden sticks, five disposable applicator brushes and five cotton rolls.
But there are no instructions.
Amazon reviews complain about the gems not sticking. Some suggest using nail glue – which is toxic and can damage tooth enamel. But among Amazon’s “usually bought together” suggestions: a jar of epoxy resin glue.
One gilded, front grill one tooth for $7.98 from TCOTBE and a set silver plated front, brass for $10.99 from OOCC, both advertise “one size fits best,” but reviewers say otherwise. “Save your money and use foil (the old school way) if you want to bake lol,” warned one buyer. Bleeding gums is a common complaint among reviewers.
Perhaps the weirdest DIY item is a temporary fixer kit for under $25 from CZsy. It comes with plastic “veneers” of different shapes for missing teeth and moldable resin beads for repair.
It also doesn’t come with printed instructions, but they are buried in the product description on Amazon’s website:
- Drop in hot water above 130 degrees for about two minutes.
- Shape the size you want.
Company information or websites could not be found for some of these brands, but the products have one thing in common: a barcode sticker that says “Made in China”. Instead of responding to KHN’s request to explain its policies, Amazon delete listing for replacement teeth. Other items are still available to order at the time of publication.
It’s not just do-it-yourself dentistry for licensed toothache professionals. Vendors selling certificates for the use of composite veneers and masks – dentures that replace lost teeth when someone still has a lot of natural teeth in place – are popping up on social media. Suppliers such as Marie’s Beauty Bar in Philadelphia will apply composite veneers for less than perfect smiles – in this case, starting at $1,999 per hour with a $499 deposit – as a lower-cost alternative to porcelain veneers, which require shaving of natural teeth. Ad seller veneer training for $5,999. Marie’s Beauty Bar did not respond to emails or voice messages seeking comment.
Dental DIY is not just a phenomenon of young people on social networks. “There are teenagers, teenagers, even adults trying these things out,” says Dr. Amber Bonnaiga dentist in Marietta, Georgia, and the state superintendent for DentaQuest, a company in Boston. “A major contributing factor is the lack of access to dental care.”
Do-it-yourself can be a viable alternative, especially since a person has severely damaged teeth, is in severe pain, or has a dental bill from repairing damage Do-it-yourself rarely shows results disappointing on TikTok. Social media users, for the most part, display handpicked highlights, not adverse reactions.
The “interesting thing” right now is all these hacks to make things supposed to be easier or more accessible,” she said. She warns in advance or leaves buyers wary. Judging from these influencers often receive free services in exchange for potentially biased promotional posts, Bonnaig warns that complications can occur days, weeks or months after treatment.
Even if people don’t dare to drill their own teeth, they can do damage with other social trends like drinking “Healthy Coke” a mixture of balsamic vinegar – which is more acidic than actual soft drinks – and flavored carbonated water. It’s a recipe for severe enamel erosion.
Sahota has seen what these viral trends can do. “Patients have been drinking or brushing their teeth with lemon juice, or possibly apple cider vinegar, and that has caused acid or erosion of their teeth,” she said. “Patients will say, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, I’ve seen online that, you know, this is going to be better for my health. And so I did it nightly. ‘ That’s when I’ll bring a mirror and show them exactly what effect that trend has on your teeth.”
Such low-cost hacks can cost patients much more in the long run. Sahota suggests that consumers looking for safe ways to enhance their smiles can scour the products on Healthy mouth sports website ADA seal of acceptance. Bonnaig and Sahota both urge patients to discuss their dental and cosmetic concerns with their dentist.
Every tooth and every mouth is unique, and there’s no safe DIY hack for a one-size-fits-all. “You can have a beautiful smile,” says Sahota, “even if it’s not perfect.”