TikTok: The good, the bad and the ugly

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  Posted by: Dental Design      5th February 2021

Of all the social media platforms we have access to, TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular. There are an estimated 3.7 million active TikTok users in the UK alone, with the largest share of these users aged between 18 and 24.[1] The app enables the creation of short videos that typically involve the user singing, dancing, acting or miming audio-clips. TikTok’s ease-of-use is a key factor of what makes the app so appealing, particularly to the younger demographic. Although it has enjoyed a great deal of success since its launch, TikTok has not escaped criticism.

A quick online search shows that the app has been challenged on various issues in recent years, including the safety of its younger users. With a mission to “inspire creativity and bring joy”, TikTok is primarily used for entertainment purposes.[2] Yet the simplistic nature of the app enables those with even the smallest following to go viral and become online celebrities overnight, which can promote extreme attention-seeking behaviour among users. Indeed, a worrying trend has emerged whereby TikTok users are encouraged to take part in “challenges”.

These challenges often involve users filming and uploading videos of themselves copying and/or producing their own version of community-led activities. Challenges that are promoted by celebrities or social media influencers generally gain the most momentum – Ed Sheeran famously launched his own challenge in 2019, inviting TikTok users to share videos of the most beautiful people in their lives under the hash tag #BeautifulPeople, which has generated almost 1 billion views on the app to date.[3], [4] Although many TikTok challenges are intended to be harmless fun, others promote particularly alarming behaviour among those who are willing to go to dangerous lengths to impress.

In fact, TikTok has recently been condemned for giving rise to the #SkullBreakerChallenge and the #PennyChallenge. The former involves two people kicking the legs out from under a third to make them fall over, whilst the latter sees users partially plugging in a mobile phone charger, before attempting to create a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny. These challenges have resulted in some teenagers being prosecuted, hospitalised or even killed.[5], [6] It seems the risks some people are prepared to take to “go viral” on TikTok also extend to dentistry.

Last year, the Oral Health Foundation (OHF) announced that it was becoming extremely concerned for the safety of some TikTok users, following a rise in the number of influencers sharing bogus dental advice. At the time of writing, some of the most harmful TikTok videos detailing DIY dental “hacks” had been liked by millions of TikTok users, alarming the OHF with regard to the potential effect some influencers were having on their audience. These videos range from users drinking a shot of apple cider vinegar every day and rinsing their mouth with hydrogen peroxide, to rubbing banana skins on their teeth and – even more disturbingly – filing down uneven teeth with a nail file.[7]

Access to dental care has been limited over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning many patients have been unable to visit a dentist. This may be a driving factor as to why some social media users are sharing their oral care tips, regardless of whether these tips are safe or not. However, as dental professionals know, those that follow some of the DIY dental advice circulating on social media could cause severe, long-term damage to their general and oral health. With social media use unlikely to diminish in the face of continued restrictions on freedoms, we may see more patients turn to social media platforms like TikTok as a vital resource for dental information.

This emphasises the need for dental professionals to re-establish themselves as the authority on oral health, with steps taken to engage with patients both online and in practice where possible. As patient education is key towards successfully combatting misinformation, dental teams should be proactive in providing professional advice and guidance in a timely and engaging manner. To foster greater trust among patients, it can also be beneficial to recommend the use of effective oral healthcare solutions backed by science. For instance, the ‘Perio plus’ product range is the outcome of over 20 years’ research and development, meaning clinicians can endorse it with confidence knowing it is safe and clinically proven to ensure optimal results.

It is important to remember that for all of social media’s shortcomings, there are equally as many benefits. Some dental professionals are already taking advantage of platforms such as TikTok to share vital yet easily digestible information on the best way to take care of teeth and gums. In turn, many patients are becoming better educated and increasingly motivated about their oral health and hygiene.[8], [9] These factors can go a long way to promoting an even more positive relationship between the dental profession and the general public. So long as social media is used responsibly, it can be a force for good.


For more information please call 01480 862084, email info@curaprox.co.uk or visit www.perioplus.com/uk


[1] Social Films. (2020) TikTok UK Statistics 2020. Available at: https://www.socialfilms.co.uk/blog/tiktok-uk-statistics#:~:text=TikTok%20has%203.7%20million%20active,of%2041%20minutes%20a%20day. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[2] TikTok. (2020) Our Mission. Available at: https://www.tiktok.com/about?lang=en. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[3] TikTok. (2019) Ed Sheeran launches global hashtag challenge #BeautifulPeople on TikTok. Available at: https://newsroom.tiktok.com/en-gb/ed-sheeran-launches-global-hashtag-challenge-beautifulpeople-on-tiktok. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[4] TikTok. (2020) #beautifulpeople. Available at: https://www.tiktok.com/tag/beautifulpeople. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[5] Wakefield, J. (2020) TikTok skull-breaker challenge danger warning. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-51742854. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[6] Mulraney, F. (2020) Two teenagers are charged with attempting to burn school property after taking part in a viral TikTok challenge that destroys power outlets and can cause fire. DailyMail. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7944139/Two-students-charged-attempting-burn-school-property-viral-TikTok-outlet-challenge.html. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[7] Oral Health Foundation. (2020) Charity alarmed by latest batch of dangerous DIY dental hacks to come out of TikTok. Available at: https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/charity-alarmed-by-latest-batch-of-dangerous-diy-dental-hacks-to-come-out-of-tiktok. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[8] Fitzmaurice, R. (2020) Use mouthwash and floss before cleaning your teeth, says viral TikTok video – and experts agree. Evening Standard. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/healthy-at-home/mouthwash-before-brushing-teeth-viral-tiktok-bleeding-gums-a4430966.html. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

[9] Torres, K. (2020) This Dentist Went Viral After Demonstrating How Much Toothpaste You Actually Need When Brushing. BuzzFeed. Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/kristatorres/how-much-toothpaste-you-need-viral-tiktok. [Last accessed: 17.11.20].

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