“Extreme Makeover” was a very popular TV show. It took people with self-perceived physical problems, flew them to Hollywood, and made them over in dramatic fashion. Quite possibly the main reason for the show’s great success is its relatability. Everyone at one point or another has felt self-conscious about their appearance. Perceived physical shortcomings often have negative effects on mental health as well, driving the irrational myth of the “perfect form.” The show was popular because it allowed people to change while also promoting self-acceptance and healthy lifestyle choices.
Since 1985, when I first started practicing dentistry, patients have consistently asked the same question, “How do I make my teeth whiter?” Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as many of them would like to believe. To make teeth whiter, the bone, the gum, and the tooth must all be healthy. If they are not, the whitening process is simply a cosmetic effect, and is in no way indicative of a truly healthy smile. It is like buying a car with a beautiful exterior, only to find out after a couple of miles that the transmission needs to be replaced. For those with healthy tooth, gum, and bone, professional whitening done in a dental office is the ideal choice. For those on a budget, or those who would like to do it themselves, the same whitening products used by dentists are more often becoming available to the consumer.
These are some guidelines to make your teeth whiter:
1. Go to your dentist and ask whether teeth whitener will be safe for your mouth. The goal is to make sure that your teeth, gum, and bone are all healthy so that the teeth whitener will not damage them.
2. Ask your dentist which teeth whitener he or she recommends for you. That way you will not waste your money buying just any teeth whitener.
3. You can try over-the-counter teeth whitener first. If you do not get the results you want, step up to professional teeth whitening done by your dental office.
4. If you are on a tight schedule, and need teeth whitening done quickly (for example, getting married), your best bet is to have it done by your dental office.
5. If the teeth whitener starts creating pain or sensitivity in your mouth, stop using it right away. Give it a break for 1-2 days, or until the pain disappears. Start using it again but only for shorter lengths of time.
6. Results vary. It may take several hours, several days, or even several weeks before seeing results. This can be due to the strength of the whitener itself.
7. White teeth do not last forever. In the future, you may have to touch-up again. Certain foods with a high amount of chromogens (natural dyes found in organic substance) and acidity will accelerate discoloration. Among the most discoloring foods are Wine, Tea, and Cola drinks. A diet regular in these foods may necessitate a retouch every 2-3 years.
8. There is no age limitation for using teeth whitening products, but young people (less than 18 years) are more likely to experience teeth sensitivity.
9. Because teeth whitening is a purely cosmetic procedure, most insurance policies will not cover it.
10. If a teeth whitening product does not work for your, you can always ask your dentist about other options such as veneers, crowns, snap-on-smiles, white filling, or any other treatment appropriate to your needs.
A lawyer came to me and told me that he wished to make his teeth whiter, but didn’t want to make them too white and unnatural looking. I suggested he use a teeth whitener that allows him to control the degree of whiteness. He used it for about a week and stopped because he had already reached his goal. He was very happy with the results, and returned 10 years later to ask for a touch-up.
First Lady Michelle Obama greets the Extreme Makeover team at the White House
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