Long in the Teeth-Whitening 

A Scene writer puts her research where her mouth is

A Scene writer puts her research where her mouth is

Clean hair and a smile. That's all you need." Wise words from my fashionable aunt, in whose eyes clothes didn't make the woman as much as a well-groomed appearance and pleasant demeanor did. These days, though, I'm not sure the aphorism works. With teeth-whitening proving to be more than just a passing phenomenon and even grandmothers walking around with gleaming smiles, a person can no longer rely solely on a nice smile. It has to be a bright smile, a blindingly and stunningly white smile.

Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic. I do have teeth, and they're not so bad ones. No cavities, no obvious gaps or gaping holes. But like most people, I do have the occasional soda, cup of coffee or glass of red wine, so my teeth, though by no means jaundiced, are not as white as they could be. Thinking I could remedy this with some over-the-counter teeth-whitening products, I ran into my local drugstore one evening to have a look. Ten minutes later, I ran back out. It was too overwhelming. There were too many products, too many claims of being "the #1 dentist-recommended product on the market." I couldn't decide whom or what to believe, so I chose nothing at all.

After speaking with Joyce Bender, though, I felt a lot better. A registered and certified dental assistant with Dr. Randal Garner's Dental Bliss salon in Franklin, she was more than accommodating with my numerous questions. Dental Bliss offers two options for anyone looking to whiten their teeth, both involving a bleaching process. The first consists of a take-home kit employing a solution much stronger than anything one could buy over the counter. With the second option, a dentist applies a gel to the patient's teeth, and then uses a laser to activate the bleaching agent. Though generally more expensive, this method is much quicker, with results visible usually after only one visit.

Both techniques involve risk of increased tooth sensitivity, but for the most part, when done under the supervision of a certified dentist, will only serve to enhance the smile you have. As Bender described it, "Your teeth are like little tubes, and you go in and you clean those out. You're not taking away anything. It's kind of like Clorox and your clothes. You're taking out the stains. You're not removing tooth layer." In fact, she said, the peroxide involved can help clean out your gums to preserve their health.

In my book, though, the price is still a bit steep—several hundred dollars' worth steep—and when there are so many other things in this world with greater priority—food, rent, a hot pair of jeans—it's hard to justify spending that much money on sprucing up perfectly good, well-functioning teeth. As Bender reminded me though, "The first thing you see about a person is their teeth and their eyes." And then she said those haunting, haunting words, "People with whiter teeth look younger." Really? I was back at the drugstore that night, determined to navigate the maze of teeth-whitening products.

At first I chose Dr. George's Dental White, a formula the box claims has been used by dentists since 1989 and gives "Incredible Results!" After taking it home and thinking it over, really looking at the bright-eyed picture of the woman on the front—think a poor man's Marlo Thomas—I decided I'd rather not go with Dr. George. I'd like something a little better known. So I chose Crest Whitestrips instead. According to Bender, the Crest product works but takes a lot longer. "It's like painting a house with watered down paint," she said. "It's not as strong and you would have to do it longer." I have to say she's right because after a week of using the 7-day Crest Whitestrips Premium, I can tell only a subtle difference—if the lighting's right and I stare at the mirror long enough—but I wouldn't say my teeth are noticeably whiter. Maybe if I use the strips every day for the next three weeks I'll see some changes, but the Crest strips aren't so cheap, and after two or three boxes the best idea might be to schedule a trip to the dentist for some professional bleaching.

I convinced a friend to try the Swab-Plus Advanced Dental Whitening System, a product that involves brushing on a whitener with Q-tip-like wands. Again, the jury's still out on whether or not his smile has been vastly improved by the experience. If there have been gains, they're modest.

My favorite product has proved to be the Rembrandt Whitening Wand. No bigger than a tube of lip gloss, it's compact and easy to use: Simply glide the wand over your teeth and you're good to go. It also doubles as a breath freshener, so the fact that it'll most likely take 10,000 applications before your teeth will begin to brighten even a little really isn't much of an issue.

What I knew going into my unscientific and questionable survey of teeth-whitening options was that no one likes yellow teeth. What I didn't realize was how much it'd cost to get rid of them. A person with cash to spend should ask a dentist about what services he or she offers, while the rest of us can muddle through the drugstore shelves. The Crest strips and Rembrandt's of the world do work, albeit just a little slower, and the end result is worth it. As Bender from Dental Bliss reminded me, "Everyone can go brighter."

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