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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Teeth-whitening: Is it worth the cost?

The first thing you notice about a person when he opens his mouth to have a conversation is the teeth. Healthy bright white teeth always get extra attention.

Many people may not know, but doctors say teeth are by nature supp
osed to be greyish yellow, not 'snow-white.' This means that most people who are unsatisfied by the colour of their teeth might, in the real sense, have healthy teeth.

But drinking too much coffee and wine and smoking affects the colour of our teeth and because teeth darken with age, most people are rushing for all kinds of expensive 'whitening tooth pastes' to wipe off those little stains.

Everybody loves a bright white smile, and there are a variety of products and procedures available to help one get this great smile. You have seen those Hollywood celebrities on television and wondered how blessed they are to have such dazzling teeth. For some, they are God given, while for others, it's all about teeth -whitening.

Singer Britney Spears and star actress Julia Roberts have done it. And so when they smile, you go "wow!" The magic lies in those teeth- whitening products and treatment. And right now, as dentists will tell you, the business is booming here. A good number of dental clinics in Kampala can now offer teeth- whitening sevices.

Teeth whitening is a procedure to whiten teeth by applying a solution of hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching agent to the outside surface of teeth. Dr Fred Semakula, a dentist at Victoria Medical Centre, says there are several products on the market such as whitening toothpastes, over-the counter gels, strips and trays.

But whitening is not recommended for everyone. One needs to consult a dentist before doing it. Dentists say it is ideal for people with healthy, unrestored teeth and gums. Individuals with yellow tones to their teeth respond best. Dentists advise that whitening is not recommended for children under the age of 16 and pregnant women.

How it is done
Medical websites clearly describe how the whitening treatment is done. Dentists whiten teeth externally or internally. The external process involves using what is called "the nightguard system" in which a dentist "makes a tray from an impression taken of the patient's teeth, so that the bleaching gel can be applied very precisely on the teeth without touching the gums."

Then there is "heating the bleach gel so that it acts more quickly on the discolouring molecules within the tooth." This technique can be used to "lighten the tooth internally and bring the colour closer to the colour of the surrounding teeth."

The results vary, say dentists. For example, some patients will get much whiter teeth than others -something that has to do with the condition of the teeth, degree of the stain and the type of bleaching system used and for how long.

The downside to teeth-whitening lies in high tooth sensitivity and irritation of the gums. According to Dr. Semakula, tooth sensitivity comes about during the treatment. It emerges from an ill-fitting mouthpiece tray.

The good news however is that the side effects are temporary and will vanish in a day or two after the treatment. Besides, where the sensitivity of the tooth is high, it is advised that whitening products be used less often.

It is also expensive - You have to part with a minimum of Shs40,000 to 100,000 or more, depending on how effective you want the chemicals to work and where you receive the operation.

While some studies have since concluded that teeth-whitening is secure and dependable others disagree because it also been suggested that most whitening products will only remove surface stains.

BBC online further reported that dentists faced the risk of being sued for whitening people's teeth. The European Union was apparently worried about the "amount of concentrated bleach used in the treatment." They said it is "illegal to supply hydrogen peroxide bleach at greater than 0.1 percent" yet most teeth whitening products can contain 100 times that amount.

Is it worth it? So should you go for teeth whitening or not? You are the captain of your soul, so you decide. Toothpaste helps to clean and protect the teeth and can as well remove some stains to retain the natural colour as well. Teeth-whiteninging chemicals make them teeth whiter.

Professional teeth whitening is quite expensive but whitening toothpaste costs just a few bucks. And who wouldn’t want to make an impression with a great smile? Your pocket can help you decide.

Published in Sunday Monitor, November 26, 2006