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Shiny and Bright!

Shiny and Bright!

Shiny and Bright!

by Bill Kuttler, DDS

Everyone seems to want to look their best and have fun at this time of the year.  And that seems to be just as true at Christmas celebrations with family and dear friends as it does at a big New Year’s Eve party with hundreds of your closest friends.  When I think of “shiny and bright”, I think of “White Christmas”, holiday decorations, holiday outfits, and the jewelry that goes with those outfits.  Which is kind of sad since I’m a dentist….

Because although many people don’t acknowledge it, one of the first things almost everyone notices about someone else is their SMILE!  And shiny, white, and bright are definitely “in” with smiles!  Even better–your dentist can help your smile look all of those things for relatively little cost.

However, let me pause for a minute before talking about “white” smiles and talk about “healthy” smiles.  I’m amazed at the number of people who have come into our office and wanted their teeth whitened, yet they have swollen, bleeding gums, heavy deposits of dirty looking tarter, and sometimes plaque so thick all over their teeth that I can barely find the teeth themselves.  I do not say this to give those people grief–they are simply responding to advertising they’ve seen and want to know what their options are.

The really fun thing for us is to help those people learn more about their mouths, help them get their gum tissue healthy again, clean the plaque and tarter off their teeth, and then give them a mirror.  Often they are blown away when they can see before and after photographs of their mouths side by side!  For many of them at that point, they realize they don’t want or “need” their teeth whitened–they’ve just done it for themselves by getting their mouths healthy.  And that’s the best bargain going in dentistry–GOOD HEALTH!!

Sometimes, though, once we have gotten people’s mouths cleaned up and healthy, they still would like their smile to be brighter and whiter.  And we can help with that as well.  There are three basic ways to whiten teeth:

Using over-the-counter products such as adhesive whitening strips.

Having whitening done in the office by your dentist or your dentist’s staff.

Having your dentist assist you by making custom trays that you can use at home with products that your dentist provides for you.

The good news is that all three approaches work, and they all use similar materials to accomplish the actual whitening.  The rest of the story is that they don’t all achieve similar results.  Let me explain.

The adhesive whitening strips work best for people who spend the time to apply them with meticulous care, and who have fairly straight teeth.  They need to be precisely placed, and if your teeth are not well aligned, it is very difficult to get the strips placed well.  The other limiting factor with the strips is that they are not long enough to reach many people’s back teeth that often show a lot when they smile.  Those people end up with bright front teeth, and then a sudden shift that looks rather strange when they smile.

In-office whitening tends to be very costly since it takes a great deal of staff time and, in my experience, it doesn’t hold up as well over time.  Certainly it provides a “jump start” to the process, but most offices still encourage people to use custom trays at home after the in-office treatment.  Further, the published literature fairly universally concludes that the whitening solution doesn’t need laser beams, bright lights or heat to make it work.  Some people refer to those lights, etc. as simply “marketing gimmicks”.

The dentist-assisted approach has been shown in the dental literature to provide equal or better long-term results compared to the in-office approach while costing far less, and it provides a more uniform result than the over-the-counter adhesive strips.  Depending on the strength of the solution placed in the trays, the trays can be safely worn for 30 minutes per day to over-night.  For most people the results start to become apparent within a week, and people are usually very pleased with their results within two to three weeks.

We have people in our practice that whitened their teeth eight or ten years ago and are still pleased with their smiles today.  And we have people who use their trays a few nights a year to refresh the whiteness of their teeth.

While some people aren’t good candidates for whitening, either due to the type of discoloration of their teeth or the amount or type of dentistry they have had done, it’s a great option for many.  I encourage you to talk with your dentist about this–but only after you’ve made sure that your mouth is as healthy as it can be, and you’ve had your teeth professionally cleaned and polished.  I hope you have a white, bright and shiny holiday season!