Make your teeth sparkle
A smile means the same thing in every language in every country. It’s a greeting, a response to an amusing joke or story, it works at times when words don’t.
But while a smile tells people of your warmth and good humor, it also tells them something you may not wish to reveal: The exact shade of your teeth.
Yellowing of the teeth is a natural part of aging, but lifestyle and dietary factors like smoking and drinking red wine and coffee quicken the process.
There are several ways to turn smiles from ashen to alabaster; the key is figuring out which works for you.
But while pearly whites give the appearance of a healthy mouth, it is important to keep in mind that the procedure is strictly cosmetic and in no way replaces routine dental exams.
“I’ve extracted some really white teeth,” said Dr. Patrick Blaney, who has a practice in Westmont. “It’s the same if you have a beautiful home. It can still get swept away in a flood if it has structural problems.”
That said, here are a few ways to "whiten up."
- Whitening toothpaste
The jist: Take a stroll down the toothpaste aisle of any drugstore and you’ll see "whitening" stamped on almost every box. Most of these toothpastes offer about 5 percent hydrogen peroxide, the safe and standard whitening agent, and don’t differ much more than regular toothpaste in taste or consistency.
Benefits: You shouldn’t expect to spend more than $10.
Drawbacks: “Any little bit helps, but really the whitening toothpaste is not sitting on your teeth long enough,” said Elizabeth Spencer, a dental assistant at Goers Dental Care in Clarendon Hills.
Bottom line: Chances are you won’t notice any change.
- Over-the-counter strips
The jist: Packaged plastic strips are coated in a precise amount of peroxide gel that you position on your top and bottom rows for 30 minutes at a time. As the first company to sell the technology, Crest guarantees you will see a difference after one kit, anywhere from 28 to 48 strips, depending on the specific product.
Benefits: Diversity. Several brands offer over-the-counter whitening remedies; Crest alone offers five kinds, ranging in price from $25 to $40. Crest Renewal promises to “turn back the clock on your smile” with a strip that penetrates deep to remove 20-year-old stains.
Drawbacks: The six front teeth on the top and bottom get the full treatment but not so for the rest of your teeth, Blaney said. Also, the peroxide count is curiously absent from the line’s boxes, though Crest representatives say all of the products contain somewhere between 6 and 10 percent.
Bottom line: If your teeth are only slightly stained, Crest White strips may offer just what you need at a reasonable price.
- Custom Trays
The jist: For this treatment, you visit a dentist and have impressions taken of your teeth to form a custom mold. The impression only takes 15 to 20 minutes, and molds are typically ready to take home with syringes of whitening solution the next day. Starting out at a half an hour, you would gradually work up to wearing the trays for up to two hours for as long as necessary until your teeth reached the desired color.
Benefits: A customized shape ensures a snug fit so that each and every tooth is exposed to the same amount of peroxide. Offices are also able to offer the whitening agent in varying levels of potency for those who may have sensitive teeth or, conversely, those who want fast effects. The average person can expect their teeth to remain white for about a year. A supply of extra syringes can offer the occasional touch up.
Drawbacks: At $300, custom whitening trays are an expense. The process also requires stick-to-it-iveness.
Bottom line: The committed person’s best bet for white teeth. Custom trays offer uniform bleaching with results that last.
- Power bleaching
The jist: An in-office visit of three 15-minute sessions constitutes power bleaching. For this method, a dental assistant outfits you with a rubber dam or paint your gums with nontoxic plastic to protect them from a highly concentrated solution containing 38 percent peroxide. A soft blue light intensifies the process.
“We like this option especially for people whose teeth are on the darker side,” said Spencer, who performs power bleaching on patients about twice a week.
Teeth are exceptionally white immediately after the procedure, partly due to dehydration, but darken a little once the mouth regains moisture.
Benefits: Nothing beats power bleaching for speed. It’s a tempting option for people looking at a big event like a wedding, and the average person will see results for about a year.
Drawbacks: Before the bleaching even begins, Spencer administers over-the-counter pain pills in case of gum burning or extreme tooth sensitivity. These aftereffects may last for a few days. It’s also not cheap. The office Spencer works in charges $600 for the bleaching and custom trays for touch-ups. Bleaching only is $500.
Bottom line: Consider power bleaching if your teeth and wallet are up to it.
- Crowns and veneers
The jist: Veneers are pieces of porcelain affixed to the teeth, which dentists must ground down to put in place. To insert a crown, professionals drill around the tooth 360 degrees.
Benefits: Rather than changing the color of the tooth, veneers and crowns cover your chompers. This is ideal if your teeth are badly stained by chemicals, like Tetracycline or if a nerve has died and has caused discoloring as a result.
Drawbacks: These procedures are irreversible and crowns can cost as much as $1,200 a tooth.
Bottom line: Veneers or crowns should address only the darkest, most stubborn stains.