Dangerous TikTok Trend Shows People Using Nail Files on Their Teeth—And Dentists Are Cringing

In case you think this do-it-yourself body-modification hack is worth trying, just don't.

Dentists are cringing over a new TikTok trend showing people evening out their jagged teeth using a nail file. In case you think this do-it-yourself body-modification hack is worth trying, take it from dental professionals: You could really do a number on your smile.

Videos on the social media platform feature young influencers and amateurs showing off the dangerous tooth-smoothing technique, which involves grinding the enamel with an ordinary emery board or metal nail file. “I’m gonna file my teeth down with a nail file because they’re not perfect,” says one young woman, says one young woman, @miadio. “I have some ridges and we’re ballin’ on a budget,” she says.

A self-described "TikTok Famous Dentist" who goes by TheBentist weighed in on this trend, pleading with social media users not to try this at home. "You can't do this by yourself with a nail file," he says.

It seems like it would be an obvious nope, even to someone without a medical degree, so why is anyone doing this? Kami Hoss, DDS, cofounder and CEO of the Super Dentists in San Diego suspects that people’s inclination to fix their own toothy grins might be tied, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lots of people have resorted to cutting their own hair and doing their own nails, he reasons, so maybe they think the can start working on their own teeth. But people only get one set of adult teeth, and while hair and nails grow back, once you remove the enamel, it’s gone for good, he tells Health.

What happens when you file down your enamel?

Enamel is the hardest structure in the body—harder than bone—and protects your teeth in the harsh, acidic environment of the mouth. So when you remove that outer protective layer, you’re more prone to cavities, your teeth can become sensitive, and you could even cause damage to the nerve, which is painful, Dr. Hoss explains.

In dentistry, “enameloplasty” involves removing small amounts of enamel to alter a tooth’s shape or appearance. But it’s only used in rare circumstances, says Dr. Hoss, who practices orthodontia. “We don’t do enameloplasty to straighten your teeth,” he says. If one tooth looks longer than another, it’s because one tooth is erupted longer or it’s tipped, crooked, or crowded.

The proper fix is, he says, is to get braces or liners to align the teeth correctly. Randomly filing down one tooth to line it up with another just shortens your teeth, causes permanent damage, and doesn’t solve the alignment problem, says Dr. Hoss. Plus, “It’s the easiest way to make you look older,” he says.

So, all in all, the current TikTok trend is not only cringeworthy, it’s completely unnecessary, he says. But, he adds, “After 24 years of practicing, I’ve literally seen everything.”

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