Customers search for a whiter smile

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The decision to whiten your teeth is relatively easy to make; however, selecting the procedure that best fits your teeth’s needs requires significantly more consideration. Your options range from in-office laser treatments and whitening spas, with lasting results of a year or more to at-home products whose results sustain for a few months.

The process can be finished in a one-hour session or last for several weeks, requiring multiple applications, daily. So how does one decide which method will be the most effective in creating that beautiful, white smile?

First, we need to understand why our teeth become discolored. While there is no specific color that a person’s teeth are supposed to be, certain factors can contribute to the darkening of our teeth. Exposure to specific medications, such as tetracycline, and children’s ingestion of excessive fluoride amounts (fluorisis) can cause staining.

In other cases, a single tooth may become darker due to root canal treatments or some type of trauma, such as an accidental bump. Still, for many of us with stained teeth, the more common causes are exposure to chromogenic agents such as red wine, tea and coffee, as well as smoking, which is known to have a darkening effect on teeth.

Neither dentists nor the companies that sell at-home products guarantee specific results, as outcomes vary depending on your teeth and habits. According to, yellowish- and brownish-colored teeth respond well to bleaching, and grayish-hued or purple-stained teeth may not respond well to bleaching at all.

Teeth bleaching products will not whiten existing dental work, including bonding, crowns, white fillings and bridges. The American Dental Association recommends first consulting a dentist before choosing a whitening method and looking for the ADA Seal of Acceptance on over-the-counter products.

The ADA’s seal indicates that, when used as directed, a tooth whitener is not harmful to either teeth or the soft tissues of the mouth and also that it will effectively whiten teeth.

When choosing a whitening procedure, the $500 to $1,000 price tag associated with in-office or chairside bleaching can be a less appealing option than the at-home products, which range from $6 to around $40. Whitening spas offer a one-hour treatment using gels and an ultraviolet light or laser for approximately $500 to $800.

While costly for many, the disadvantages of not opting for in-office or spa procedures include the lesser potency of peroxide, the active ingredient; the lack of professional supervision; and the mouthpiece trays that may not fit. Dr. Robert Miller, who practices in Forest Hills, examines his patients and takes the molds for the impression trays to be used at home.

“It takes a day or two to get the trays back and then I prescribe a peroxide gel,” he said. Companies such as Precision Dental Works also sell impression trays directly to the consumer, guaranteeing a custom fit and shipping within two to three days.

Still, cost and convenience serve as critical determining factors when making a choice. In addition to the dentist-supervised treatments and whitening spas, you will find a sundry of products, including trays, strips, gels and toothpastes.

Mouthpiece trays, which are used with a gel, have been the more traditional choices. When purchasing over-the-counter products, be weary of the one-size-fits-all kits, as you should be able to make customized trays to adhere to the shapes, cracks and indentations in your teeth.

An increasingly popular option is the whitening strips, which are very thin, virtually invisible and coated with a peroxide-based whitening gel. Usually, the strips are applied twice daily for 30 minutes for up to 14 days, with results lasting for four to five months.

Issa Purdue of Rego Park uses the Crest Whitestrips and has been pleased with the difference in her teeth’s appearance.

“My teeth are definitely whiter, but initially I did have some problems getting used to applying the strips. ... Now I can put them on evenly and I keep a box in my medicine cabinet.”

You can also opt for the clear peroxide-based whitening gels that are applied directly to the teeth at night with a brush. Some experience difficulties with the gel not drying properly, which has been combated by companies through the addition of alcohol to increase the drying capabilities, which unfortunately causes bad breath, according to Dr. Harold Katz, founder of California Breath Clinics. With the exception of the toothpastes, the products bleach the tooth enamel using peroxide to affect the intrinsic color of teeth. Whitening toothpastes only alter the extrinsic color of teeth.

In today’s market, there seems to be something for everyone who wants to have whiter teeth. Of course, with any of the products, if you should experience prolonged change in the color of your gums or increased tooth sensitivity to hot or cold (caused by the glycerin used in some products) please contact a dentist immediately. Just remember that the health of your teeth and gums should always be paramount.

And no matter what, keep smiling.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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