The Evolution of Teeth Whitening: From Ancient Times to Modern Methods

The Evolution of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is a dental treatment that lightens stained or discoloured teeth. It is normal for teeth to discolour over time due to drinks like coffee, tea and red wine, smoking and some medications. Teeth whitening provides a quick, painless solution for getting your teeth pearly white once again.

Throughout history, white teeth have always been valued, and different civilisations have devised various methods for whitening teeth. Continue reading to find out more about these interesting (and sometimes gross) teeth-whitening inventions.

In History

White Vinegar, Oxen Hooves and Pumice Stone

In ancient Egypt, white teeth were considered a sign of wealth and beauty and were important, especially to the pharaohs. To keep their teeth white, the Egyptians created a toothpaste that consisted of white vinegar, ground oxen hooves and pumice stone, which they would mix together. They would apply this mixture to their teeth using a frayed stick (chew stick), a type of ancient toothbrush.

Although this ancient toothpaste did whiten teeth quite well, in the long term, it had a detrimental effect as the coarseness of the paste caused the enamel to wear down, allowing the vinegar to rot the teeth.

Human Urine and Goat Milk

Like the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Romans also valued white teeth. They also used a chewing stick to brush their teeth. Unlike the Egyptians, however, the Romans thought they had found a better solution for keeping their teeth white, and this consisted of human urine, which is a bleaching agent, and goat milk, which they used to strengthen their teeth.

Although this sounds completely disgusting to us today, it was a surprisingly effective method and, in the long run, did a much better job than the Egyptians’ solution.

Nitric Acid and Other Acids

During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in Europe, barbers were utilised to cut hair and to be a dentist. They would roughly file teeth and apply nitric acid to remove stains. Ultimately, this led to every bit of enamel being stripped and teeth becoming rotten.

Mixtures of alum and sulphur were incredibly effective at whitening teeth but were also harsh on the tooth and destroyed the enamel.

Vinegar and Lemon Juice

Renaissance Europe (c. 1350-1700) was a time of arts and culture and also a time in which fashion and beauty were greatly admired. The nobility and other notable figures used a mix of vinegar and lemon juice to whiten their teeth.
Over time, the vinegar would erode the enamel and rot the teeth.

Chalk and Soap

During the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), there were considerable developments in dental care and oral hygiene. The first modern toothpaste was created. It consisted of chalk and soap, which went a long way towards keeping people’s teeth clean and healthy.


During the late 1800s, chlorine was used as a popular teeth-whitening agent, effectively removing yellowish tinges from teeth. It remained a popular bleaching method until the discovery of hydrogen peroxide.

In Modern Times

Hydrogen Peroxide

During the 1960s, an American dentist and chemist, William Klusimer, discovered that hydrogen peroxide could effectively whiten teeth. More dentists around the world began using this treatment, and it ushered in the birth of modern-day teeth-whitening procedures.

Carbamide Peroxide

In 1989, carbamide peroxide was discovered as another whitening agent. Although somewhat similar to hydrogen peroxide, it was deemed safer and resulted in fewer side effects. As an added benefit, carbamide peroxide doesn’t break down as fast as hydrogen peroxide and continues whitening teeth for up to eight hours.


Today, thanks to advancements in technology, teeth can be whitened in multiple ways. Laser teeth whitening, teeth-bleaching trays, gels, and LED lights are all treatments that dentists provide.

It is also possible to apply your own teeth-whitening treatment at home with excellent results.

Who knows what else the future holds for teeth-whitening treatments?!

At Tulip Smile Dental Clinic, we provide the Southern Highlands (NSW) with comprehensive and holistic dental treatments. We take pride in ensuring our patients are comfortable and receive the best possible care. To find out more about our Teeth Whitening services, please contact us at (02) 4872 2186 or visit our website:

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