TikTok: Dentists say don’t shave your teeth with nail file

A dentist examines a person’s mouth.

A dentist examines a person’s mouth.

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Teens and young adults on TikTok are scraping their teeth away with nail files to achieve a perfectly aligned smile, and dentists are panicking over the new trend.

In videos posted on the social media app, some of which have thousands of views, likes and comments, TikTokers admit the idea is a bad one before completing what dentists call irreversible damage.

The trend involves shaving away the enamel — the outermost layer of teeth — to fix ridged edges, uneven “buck” teeth and other imperfections. But if too much filing is done, these TikTokers can reach the soft tissue that contains blood vessels and nerves resting under their teeth’s hard outer casing.

This, experts say, almost always means heightened sensitivity and pain.

“Teeth are made up of layers, if you destroy your enamel by filing down your teeth, you may never get it back. You may end up with extreme tooth sensitivity or even cause enough damage to kill the tooth,” Chicago-based dental hygienist Iman Zayed said in a TikTok video to her 29,400 followers. “A dead tooth needs extensive and expensive treatment if you want to keep it. Don’t consider doing this, seriously.”

Dr. Suhail Mohiuddin, another dentist based in Chicago with 216,000 TikTok followers, made his own reaction video.

“Ok, you file them, and they look pretty but you didn’t solve the original problem, so what are you going to do in a few years when they’re uneven again and your teeth are shorter?” Mohiuddin asked.

There are a plethora of reasons why teeth can be crooked, overlapped or twisted. In some cases people’s mouths are too small to fit all their teeth, causing overcrowding and shifting, while others have differently sized upper and lower jaws that can lead to an overbite or underbite, according to WebMD.

Crooked teeth are also hereditary, but “early loss of baby or adult teeth; improper fit of dental restorations (for example, fillings or crowns); gingivitis (gum disease); undue pressure on the teeth and gums, [and] misalignment of the jaw after an injury,” are other possible explanations behind imperfect smiles, WebMD says.

Dr. Benjamin Winters, a practicing dentist in Arkansas who goes by “The Bentist” on TikTok, told BuzzFeed that using a nail file to shave your teeth not only affects how they look, but also how you bite.

“As an orthodontist, you know the healthy limits of enamel and tooth removal…and shaving off your tooth is something you’ll never get back! I feel like it’s my obligation as an influencer and health professional to help kids and adults on the app,” Winters told the outlet. “I want to help prevent anyone from doing something irreversible to themselves just because it looks cool online!”

Winters said the quick fixes teens are trying to accomplish are usually unnecessary because the teeth need to be moved, not shaved off in order to look how TikTokers want them to.

“If necessary, however, we can use certain abrasive strips or discs and measure the exact amount that can be taken off in a safe manner,” he told BuzzFeed.

“Don’t get mad at me when your teeth are more sensitive than a 2-year-old crying over spilled milk,” Winters says in one of his TikToks.

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Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter based in Miami focusing on science. She’s an alumna of Boston University and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.

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