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I’m flashing my pearly whites

Dr. Philips in the News…

Oh, the horror.

Counter Culture recently realized we’ve been walking around flashing stained and icky teeth at the countless cute specimens we smile at on the street.

It was only after we tried a two-week course of Crest Whitestrips ($65), a tooth whitening product which has been available in the U.S. for a year but only recently hit shelves in Canada, that we realized that we had been less than perfect.

The strips were our first experience with tooth-whitening products, and we were a little skeptical at first. We didn’t think we needed it. But our newsroom neighbour, TV columnist Antonia Zerbisias was lusting after the sample box of Whitestrips sent to us by Crest. Instead of giving it to her, Counter Culture selfishly locked it up. We wouldn’t want our neighbour to have whiter teeth than us, would we?

Zerb wasn’t the only interested passerby. Seems everybody’s talking about these things, maybe because they’ve seen recent ads for White-strips on television alongside images of wholesome Canadian skating heroes Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who are sponsored by Crest.

So feeling a little guilty, we called Crest requesting another sample for Zerb, who has always been a good girlfriend, particularly that time she slid us four new episodes of Sex And The City on videotape, long before they even aired in Canada.

When they arrived, we both went at it, and found them both easy to use and very effective, proving that all the hype about Whitestrips isn’t unfounded.

Whitestrips use the same whitening ingredient as most of the other similar products currently on the market in North America – peroxide, which penetrates the tooth to remove stains below the enamel. What sets White-strips apart is in how the peroxide is delivered.

Most other whitening kits include bulky trays, which, when filled with gel and placed in the mouth, are ugly, uncomfortable and messy. But with Whitestrips, you just stick a piece of transparent plastic covered in a gel containing peroxide to your teeth. The strips are nearly invisible, don’t drip, and are easy to ignore.

"I’ve been raving about these to all my friends," wrote Zerb in a recent e-mail to Counter Culture.

"I can’t believe what a difference they have made to my smile. Look at me, I’m grinning like a fool.

"Years of drinking red wine, coffee and tea, smoking a few cigarettes a day, and, most important, eating pomegranates when in season and getting a daily fix of fresh blueberries (for the cancer- fighting bioflavanoids) both yellowed and dulled my teeth, which, admittedly, have always been in excellent shape. (Look ma! No cavities!)

"I’ve tried all the whitening tooth- pastes, brushing with pastes made of peroxide and baking soda, chewed whitening gum and, 10 years ago, paid nearly $400 to have a mold made of my teeth by my dentist who supplied special bleach. My teeth got no whiter – just more sensitive.

"But now, for the first time since my early teens when I started drinking coffee and smoking, they’re almost Chiclet white."

Counter Culture must admit, we were delinquent when it came to consistency. Though the box recommends using the strips for 30 minutes twice a day for optimum effect, we often found ourselves sort of, you know – occupied – at bedtime. So we sometimes applied them only once a day. Still, our teeth were definitely whiter than before.

Frankly, after experiencing such dramatic effect, Zerb and Counter Culture had a few questions about the safety of this product. So, being the good journalists we are, we called up Crest.

We talked to Win Sakdinan, the company’s director of public affairs, to get the dirt.

First off, he told us feedback to the product has been really positive in the U.S., where Crest had more than $100 million (U.S.) in sales last year alone. That adds up to about 2.8 million boxes.

But are there any possible negative side effects of Whitestrips?

Other than short-term sensitivity, no, says Sakdinan, noting that they employ the same active ingredient as professional kits one might use under the supervision of a dentist.

"When you use a product like this, the peroxide takes away some of the water and the oxygen from the tooth, and that can cause sensitivity," he explained, "but it goes away one or two hours after you remove the strip."

(Zerb, by the way, noticed only "very mild sensitivity" the first day she used the strips, and Counter Culture didn’t notice any.) And what about sensitivity of the tongue, gums and other mushy bits in the mouth?

It didn’t turn up in tests, Sakdinan says. "The strip can easily conform to the teeth, so we’re hoping this delivery system keeps it on the teeth instead of spilling on the gums and soft tissue," he says.

Indeed, we noticed that very little of the peroxide goop ended up in our mouths, but wanted to know if swallowing it was potentially poisonous. It’s just like toothpaste, Sakdinan says. One wouldn’t want to do it deliberately, but tests showed it to be relatively harmless when ingested accidentally.

We also wanted to know if White- strips will work for everyone.

"They’re sometimes not as effective for people who were born with stains or who get them when they are young or ill. But the most common reason for staining is what people eat and drink and Whitestrips work really well for that," he says.

To get a second opinion, Counter Culture called a dentist who specializes in this area, Dr. Edward Philips at the Studio For Aesthetic Dentistry.

"I’m happy Crest came out with these because it’s affordable," says Philips, who often does professional whitening for his patients.

"So if someone can’t afford a professional job, then this is the best alternative."

He notes that he doesn’t think 14 days of use is enough, explaining that Crest’s professional Whitestrip kits, which the company sells only through dentists, contain a higher percentage of peroxide but recommend 21 days of use.

He said using a box and a half of the consumer Whitestrips would probably be most effective and wouldn’t cause damage, but he questions whether people will be willing to commit to three weeks of use.

Philips also notes that dentist-administered whitening trays work better than Whitestrips because they form a hermetic seal around the tooth, preventing oxygen from interfering with the chemical reaction that causes whitening. Professional kits cost between $300 and $1,000 and require five to 10 days of use.

Remember, whiteners don’t change the colour of caps or crowns or veneers, so your mouth might look like a multi- coloured patchwork quilt if you have such things in visible places.

Zerb wanted to know if she could apply the strips every four months, say, rather than every six months, for extra- white teeth and to counteract her high- stain lifestyle.

No problem, says Sakdinan. "It won’t cause damage.

"Some of my colleagues apply them every two months," he says. "But those are the Ross Gellar types," he says, referring to that episode of Friends, in which dorky Ross whitens his teeth alittle too much, goes to a club under a black light, and blinds everyone in the vicinity.

So, now, a few weeks later, Zerb and I are busily smiling at bike couriers, interns and anyone else who happens by our desks in the deepest corner of the newsroom. She plans to apply White- strips for three weeks every three months, and now, so must we.

Your mouth might look like a multi-coloured patchwork quilt if you have caps or crowns in visible places.