When it comes to whitening your teeth, are all processes created equal?
Dallas is resplendent with are beautiful people. Women are nipped, men are tucked and there’s enough Botox in foreheads to fill Texas Stadium.
The pursuit of perfection and youth is an unavoidable part of modern culture, is perhaps even stronger in the gay community. Yet the price tag associated with the vast array of cosmetic procedures is enough to give a person permanent frown lines. But there is great news and plenty to smile about when it comes to teeth whitening.
Thanks to advances in technology and increased competition, obtaining a gleaming white set of choppers has become fast, affordable and available everywhere from the local dentist to the nearest drugstore. So omnipresent are the products, they can even be ordered during late-night Meredith Baxter movie marathons on Lifetime.
A quick search on Walgreens.com is all it takes to understand the vastness of the whitening empire. Over 130 products are available through the site in the form of strips, gels, pens, toothpastes, mouthwash and chewing gum all claiming to have super whitening powers.
There’s also the “ionic” light advertised on TV. As if walking around with other bleaching apparatuses aren’t humiliating enough, at least one manufacturer has designed a system where people cram tiny blue flashlights in their mouths.
The American Dental Association divides whitening products into two groups: peroxide containing whiteners or bleaching agents and whitening toothpastes. But it lists only eight approved over-the-counter whitening products on its Web site.
So the question is, ADA approval or not, do OTC whitening products work?
The simple answer is yes, but the complete answer is more complicated.
While store-bought whitening products are less expensive than professional whitening, there is a cost in terms of quality. And in many cases, the price of drugstore whiteners could be higher in the long run. OTC product results typically don’t last as long as professional treatment, so more frequent usage is necessary.
Comfort is also a factor: Whitening gels can be applied too liberally and damage gums.
And whitening toothpastes, which are more expensive than simple fluoride alternatives, may not do enough to get a smile its whitest.
“Whitening toothpastes mainly just put a few molecules on teeth for a while and don’t have a lasting effect,” said Dr. Alan Maedgen of Maedgen Smile Designs at Turtle Creek.
What really works then? Several months ago, I set out to compare OTC to professional whitening and find the answer.
First up was Crest Whitestrips Premium ($32.99), used for the one-week schedule recommended on the box. The strips, which look similar to those blackhead-removing nose pads, had to be worn twice a day for 30 minutes each session. The strips were uncomfortable and increased salivation so much that an unexpected visit from a friend could end in an unnecessary trip to the ER for rabies vaccinations.
After about 15 minutes, the adhesion can lessen enough that they lose contact with the tooth enamel. They do result in whiter teeth, but they can end up looking chalky, unevenly colored and overly sensitive. Irritated gums were also experienced a few days into the test.
In comparison, a post-Whitestrip visit a month later to Maedgen proved far more effective. The popular smile makeover technology from Discus Dental, known as Zoom!2, has a great reputation on the Internet and among peer groups.
While whitening costs in Dallas can go as high as $1000, Zoom!2 is typically around $500, and can run as low as $300.
The results are amazing and many months later, still apparent. Treatment varies from patient to patient based on the amount of discoloration they’re experiencing, but a typical session lasts just about 45 minutes.
“In less than an hour of time, your teeth will become dramatically whiter,” said Maedgen. “Zoom!2 chairside whitening is ideal for the patient who wants immediate results.”
The speed is a huge selling factor. Results can last anywhere from six months to a year, with touch-up kits available.
After applying the whitening product, a special light is wheeled over to the treatment chair and placed through a protective mouthpiece so that it beams its rays directly on the teeth, thus activating the gel.
The device looks a little like an alien pod from the latest War of the Worlds, but for a superstar smile like Tom Cruise’s, it’s worth the possibility of battling intergalactic terrorists.
The custom-fit trays and protective gel used during the procedure alleviate gum irritation and tooth sensitivity in most patients, so biting into an Eskimo Pie two hours later won’t cause pain ripples through the nerve endings.
Make sure to question any dentist about the whitening products he or she uses. Some dentists who have used the term “zoom” are not really using the trademarked light and whitening products. Offers of free whitening should also be questioned thoroughly for possible bait-and-switch tactics. Most medical professionals are on the up-and-up, but it’s always good to put on your “buyer beware” pumps before walking into a new office. Education is key.
With any type of whitening, Maedgen recommends the most basic oral hygiene routine, including a minimum twice-daily brushing (preferably with a high-quality electric toothbrush), flossing in between teeth and maintaining a regular six month schedule of professional cleanings from a dental hygienist. For people with HIV and other conditions that compromise the immune system, Maedgen suggests three-month professional cleaning cycles.
Members of Maedgen’s staff stress the importance of limiting consumption of red wine, coffee and colas, as well as tobacco, chocolate and anything else that will stain a white shirt.
With whiter teeth, though, it’s easy to smile big and show ’em off. But you know, that eventually leads to tiny wrinkles around the mouth, crow’s feet around the eyes and
Maedgen Smile Designs, 3838 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 177. 214-559-7266.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.