ONE OF THE FUNNIER episodes of the lavishly mourned Friends featured Ross getting his teeth bleachedto, as it turned out, excess. They ended up glow-inthe-dark white; much hilarity ensued.
This was just one of the fears our testers confided when volunteering to try the latest in teethwhitening technology. For, really, it’s among the weirder manifestations of North American vanity: putting hydrogen peroxide in your mouth in hopes of looking like Cameron Diaz. Yet sporting a grin of perfect pearlies is now a status symbol for imageconscious consumers, and paying to get it is no more stigmatized than using hair colour or wearing contact lenses. Besides, it’s not like you have to sign up for Extreme Makeover, just mosey down the drugstore aisle and you will find rows of strips, tubes and bottles that promise to give you rows of brilliant canines and incisors-for six months anyway; less if you smoke or drink lots of coffee.
Consumers are certainly biting: sales of over-thecounter teeth-whiteners have nearly tripled since 2001. When dentist-administered formulas and boutique brands aimed at celebrities are included, the sector is worth as much as US$2 billion a year. To gauge the products’ effectiveness, we had four guinea pigs try a range of teeth whiteners, including strips, paint-on gel and even one involving an expensive visit to the dentist. We snapped before and after pictures so we could gauge the results objectively and remove the placebo effect on the tester.
THE VERDICT: It’s a cliché, but no pain, no gain. Each tester experienced some level of discomfort and three said they wouldn’t do it again. OUR PICK: Another cliché-you get what you pay for. The pricey dentist-administered kit was definitely worth the money, while the over-the-counter products offered marginal benefits. But if you can’t afford the professional stuff, strips work better than the paint-on gel.
THE GOOD, THE BAD
DAY WHITE EXCEL 3
COLGATE 5IMPLY WHITE NIGHT
Dentist-issued product that claims to brighten teeth “eight full shades in seven to 10 days.”
“Take off 14 years in seven days.” This is the accelerated version of the original 14-day product.
“Visibly whiter teeth in 14 days.” The wraps said to be lined with the same safe ingredient used by dentists.
“Clinically proven to whiten in 14 days.’ Claims to remove even deep stains.
Dentist creates a form-fitting “tray” that you fill with gel and wear for a half hour twice daily. Dispenser case looks like a freebasing kit.
Twice a day place transparent strips covered in gel goop across outer surfaces of top and bottom teeth. Leave for 30 minutes.
Once a day, thick strips of gooey plastic are applied to teeth like Band-Aids. Foldback tabs keep them in place, provided teeth are towel-dry.
Every night before bed brush teeth and paint on the gel, tooth by tooth.
Teeth got so sensitive couldn’t let ice cream come in contact with tender spots. Liberal use of Sensodyne toothpaste solved the problem.
Strips are innocuouslooking enough to wear in public as long as you don’t speak. But they hurt! Teeth so sensitive at first, considered quitting.
Bad things started happening: bleeding gums, itchy tongue, horrible morning breath. Chemical flavour was almost unbearable.
Simple to apply and the least expensive of the lot. Tastes horrible, though, and the first 15 seconds almost induced gagging. Made teeth quite sensitive, too.
Nice! Pearlies became whiter than Chiclets-but not glow-in-the-dark white.
Impressive. There was a noticeable difference (though the before and after photos were less definitive than tester’s conviction).
Fronts of teeth are definitely whiter, but the wraps don’t get into the in-between gaps well and those are still yellow. They just stand out now.
Minimal difference, if any. Nobody noticed any change. Not worth the aggravation or the money.
TIP: Dentists warn that long-term effects of teeth-bleaching are unknown and call for more research. Most recommend that pregnant women, for example, avoid the treatments.
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