White fever

Can today’s amazing array of teeth whiteners deliver a dazzling smile?

White fever

Source: Best Health Magazine, Spring 2008

It wasn’t long ago that teeth-whitening products brightened just a single drugstore shelf. Now it’s more like an entire section. With the rapid growth of at-home whiteners, deciphering your options can feel like a game-show challenge: Will that be extra whitening pre-rinse or sparkling-sensation paste? And when it comes to whitening your teeth, how much is too much?

To figure out what’s right for you, first decide whether you simply want to remove surface stains, or actually change the colour of your teeth with a peroxide-based bleaching agent.

Reduce stains

While all toothpaste contains mild abrasives that help keep teeth clean, whitening pastes and rinses contain additional polishing or chemical agents that have extra stain-removing ability. To maintain that fresh-from-the-hygienist look, try Crest Extra White Plus Scope toothpaste ($3, 130 mL). And for an additional hit of whitening while killing germs that cause bad breath, try Life Brand Pre-Brush Rinse ($5, 946 mL).

There’s also a potential bonus to our desire for a whiter smile. “Today’s teeth cleaners have more preventive abilities, reducing plaque build-up, preventing tooth decay and making gingivitis less of a problem,” explains Dr. Darryl Smith, a family dentist in Valleyview, Alta., and president of the Canadian Dental Association.

“If everyone brushed two times a day, spent two minutes doing it, flossed and used a mouth rinse, that would be wonderful,” Smith says. “And if whitening is the reason, then great.”

The final word: Mix and match these stain-fading products as much as you like, but don’t expect a Julia Roberts smile from using them.


The news in whitening strips—thin, almost-invisible strips coated with bleaching gel—is speed. Rather than the standard 30 minutes twice a day, Crest Whitestrips Daily Multicare ($50, 42 pouches) whitens teeth in just five minutes, while Life Brand Dissolving Whitening Strips ($35, 56 strips) dissolve in five to seven minutes.

If teeth are crowded or overlap, opt for a tray-based whitening system, which allows the bleaching gel to evenly coat the teeth. Try Rembrandt Professional Treatment Kit ($45, 7 days).

Before you start any bleaching treatment, however, get professional advice. “You want to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy,” says Smith. A dentist can also determine whether your teeth can be whitened at all. Smith also cautions that dental work (such as bridges, crowns and veneers) will not get whiter.

Gum irritation and tooth sensitivity are common bleaching side effects. Simply stop using the product, and restart once the teeth are no longer sensitive. And remember, excessive bleaching has the potential to pit tooth enamel and cause nerve damage. “Some people become almost obsessive,” says Smith. “But we don’t understand yet the long-term effects of inappropriate use.” And regardless of which bleaching system you’ve used, once you stop, the teeth start to revert to their natural colour.

The final word:
Enjoy your new, whiter smile, but be sure to follow package directions.

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