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January 2001

by Gabby

Brighter Smiles

Your smile is the first thing people notice and all of us would love to flash a brilliant, movie star caliber smile. In the last decade, amazing advances have been made in the area of tooth whitening.

Over the years you may have experienced a natural build up of organic pigments on your teeth. Colorized proteins from coffee, tea, and other foods have simply darkened the natural whiteness of your teeth. The use of tobacco, antibiotics, and certain minerals usually speeds the darkening process. But, yellowing can be easily reversed. Proven results are achieved by exposing teeth to the active ingredient hydrogen peroxide. There are many methods to apply this treatment. You can buy over-the-counter tooth whiteners that work over 2-4 weeks, or a dentist can perform an in-office procedure that can whiten your teeth instantly for a special event such as an interview or a wedding. Many people do it to boost their self image and self esteem. People are drawn to your smile. A whiter grin can give you extra confidence or boost those first impressions.

Tooth Whitening Methods

Basics: The idea with whitening tooth paste is that the active whitening ingredient is applied to your teeth every time you brush. An example of a whitening toothpaste is Colgate Platinum.
Time: Consistant use
Cost: $5-$15 per tube
Pros: Tooth whitening tooth paste is relatively low in cost and easy to purchase.
Cons: The active whitening ingredient isn't exposed to your teeth long enough to achieve significant whitening. Beware of claims of dramatic or fast results.
Gabby Sez: Use these after undergoing one of the other treatments as a means of maintenance.

Over-The-Counter Tooth Whiteners:
Basics: Over-The-Counter products use what's called a boil-and-bite mouth piece where you put the active bleaching ingredient against the tooth. The mouth piece is boiled in a pot of water and then you bite down on it and press to form it to your teeth. You then put the bleaching material in the mouth piece and wear it as instructed by the particular manufacturer. The products can be purchased at most drug stores. An example of an over-the-counter product is Vanna White's Perfect Smile.
Time: 2-3 weeks
Cost: $40-$300
Pros: Basic whitening can be achieved using this method. The products cost relatively less than those offered by a dentist and are easy to purchase.
Cons: The mouth piece dramatically overlaps your gums producing more irritation. It also feels bulky in your mouth. The concentration of the active ingredient is low to prevent sores and burning. The bleaching material is runny and not well contained by the mouth tray so much of the material can be swallowed and cause throat irritation. It can take up to six months of continuous bleaching to do the job, which involves multiple purchases of the kits. Mouth tray has to be worn every night for weeks.

Professional Take-Home Tooth Whitening
Basics: Dentist makes custom mouthpiece trays which snugly fit your teeth. Each night the patient places bleaching agent on the trays and places the trays in mouth.
Time: 2-3 weeks
Cost: $300-$500
Pros: This method is the most proven and effective method of bleaching your teeth. In case of sensitivity, the dentist can adjust the treatment regimen. There are a number of treatment options to address different types of stains and your specific needs. Dental follow ups during treatment make sure things are proceeding well with no adverse side effects.
Cons: The cost is higher than over-the-counter products. Some people may have slight sensitivity to the bleaching material. You have to wear a mouth tray every night for weeks.
GabbySez: I did this procedure about 5 years ago and was mildly satisfied with the results. I experienced sensitivity in my teeth and had to stop using the tray altogether after about 2 weeks. The dentist gave me flouride in a tube that I brushed on my teeth twice a day and that alleviated the sensitivity a lot.

Professional In-Office Power Bleaching
Basics: Dentist isolates and protects lips, gums, and inside of mouth. A bleaching agent is applied to the teeth. Finally, a powerful light source is applied which completes the procedure by activating the bleaching agent.
Time: 1-2 hours
Cost: $600-$1200
Pros: Fast dramatic results can be achieved. You can have immediate results for a special event. Specific problem teeth can be lightened to match the rest of your smile. You're working with a professional who knows how to handle such ingredients and procedures.
Cons: The cost is higher than over-the-counter products. Minor tooth sensitivity can occur for some patients.

Laser Tooth Whitening
Basics: Similar to In Office Power Bleaching with the exception that a laser is used as the light source which activates the bleaching agent.
Time: 1-2 hours
Cost: $750-$2000
Pros: The procedure is faster and produces quicker results.
Cons: Most dentists have not accepted the procedure or don't have the equipment. It's the most expensive technique available. Dental industry experts do not believe it's as promising as was hoped. More people tend to have sensitivity issues.
Gabby Sez: This is the treatment I want to try. I'll do a followup to this article with my results after I do it.