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Make your smile light up the room

Dr. Philips in the News…

Counter Culture has finally moved on, many not-so fond readers will be pleased to learn.

We are no longer obsessed with hair.

Frankly, we were getting bored with the topic. So trivial. Instead, we have decided to spend the bulk of our time considering a topic of far greater depth and meaning: teeth. Ours, in particular.

You see, we find ourselves peering critically into the mirror following every major awards show. All the starlets seem to have such perfect pearly whites. And we want to be just like them, don’t you know. (Well, with the exception of Angelina Jolie, maybe. Even though she does fine in the dental department, she drinks her husband’s blood before dinner. So déclassé.)

We can’t help but notice the proliferation of teeth whitening products at the drugstore, and we have several friends who have forked out a few hundred dollars to their dentists in the name of sparkly incisors. We wouldn’t want our readers to be left behind in the ever-advancing frontier of beauty. We wouldn’t want to be left out of it ourselves either, so we resolved to find out more.

We consulted a Yorkville dentist, Dr. Ed Philips of the Centre for Aesthetic Dentistry and president of the Toronto Dental Society.

He’s been making people more beautiful in the bouche for about 20 years and he’s noticed that, recently, an increasing number of patients are approaching him for the specific purpose of whitening their teeth.

"Right now, it’s the most common procedure that people ask for," says Philips, noting that there’s actually a social reason for the growing interest in aesthetic dentistry.

Baby boomers, he says, are just now becoming concerned about how their teeth look, after having spent much of their lives dealing with the more pressing problem of cavities and decay.

When they were children, cavity- preventing fluoride was not added to Canada’s water, as it is now. Nor was there a variety of brushing education programs in schools. As well, a shortage of dentists following the war meant that kids didn’t visit as often as they should have. So their teeth suffered, and they’ve spent much of their adulthood fixing the problems.

"They’re cleaned up now and they don’t have tonnes of problems anymore," says Philips. "So, they’re taking it one step further."

Some of his clients are referred to him for teeth whitening and other types of aesthetic dentistry by cosmetic surgeons who want to help their clients with their overall appearance.

Tooth whitening is an often-overlooked way to achieve a younger look, says Philips. But it’s not all about vanity. Aesthetic dentistry is part of a natural evolution in people’s expectations of their teeth. While teeth were once weapons used by cavemen to fight off an intruder, as well as functional tools used to shred raw meat, they now have more of a social function.

"In our society," says Philips, "we don’t want to keep people away. We want to get along with people. It makes sense that we want a beautiful smile."

Philips says tooth discolouration is simply part of aging. "It should be called re-whitening, not whitening, because it’s just a process of returning the teeth to their original colour," he says, adding that heredity is also a factor, and can affect the end result.

He says that dentist-dispensed whitening procedures are designed to address intrinsic stains – stains which occur within the pulp of the tooth, underneath the surface enamel.

"As the tooth ages, it leaves behind certain waste products," he says, explaining that most dentists use teeth whitening products containing carbamide peroxide, which goes right inside the tooth to dissolve the by-product of aging.

"People think we’re opening up the tooth and putting a white colour in, but we don’t put artificial colour in. We just dissolve the yellow."

Here’s what to expect when you visit a dentist for tooth whitening:

First, your dentist will examine your teeth and help you decide whether the process will result in the changes you’re looking for.

Philips says that not all tooth discoloration is a result of the aging process, and he doesn’t always advise people to go this route. In cases where the stains are visible – on the enamel of the tooth – a good cleaning at your dentist’s office is the best course.

These stains can result from, frequent consumption of red wine, coffee, tea, tobacco products and other substances, as well as from the glue used to adhere braces to teeth. (Whitening toothpastes are designed to address extrinsic stains, but more on that later.)

After the assessment, your dentist will create a mould of your mouth, which he uses to make custom-fitted trays for you to take home, and gives you a carbamide peroxide gel to put in the tray.

Then, you wear the tray in your mouth for a few hours or overnight for a week or more, depending on the degree of whitening you want.

If you’re looking for a faster solution, some dentists will kick-start the process by doing an in-office treatment with carbamide peroxide and applying a laser to help activate it.

"It’s a good solution if you have a wedding coming up on the weekend," says Philips, but adds it should be supplemented by the at-home program for a longer-lasting whitening effect.

Philips touches up his own smile every three months, but advises his clients to whiten about once a year.

He allows his teenaged daughters to whiten their teeth, but suggests that children younger than age 13 shouldn’t have their teeth whitened.

The only reported side effect is that some people experience tooth sensitivity following the process, but it passes quickly, says Philips.

The process ranges in price from about $250-$700 depending on the dentist and the degree of whitening contemplated, Philips says. Laser treatment can cost between $1,200 and $1,900 and includes a kit for whitening at home.

Philips also notes that whiteners don’t affect caps, fillings and crowns – made to match the colour of the rest of your teeth – so using a kit could trigger the need for replacements. You may have to factor that into the cost.

Counter Culture has decided to forego the dentist-dispensed procedure for now (we can’t bear the thought of wearing those trays around the house), though we’ll keep it in mind for later.

In the meantime, we’re going to switch to toothpaste with whitening qualities, as we came across a clinical study on the Internet, which found that whitening toothpastes reduced extrinsic staining by about 40 per cent.

The array of products available at the drugstores these days is overwhelming. We counted as many as 30 whitening products on the shelf during a recent trip to Shopper’s Drug Mart. But we also found several studies comparing different brands of whitening toothpastes, and Colgate products seemed to fare better than others.

As for the whitening kits that are available for between $14 and $40 and claim to address intrinsic stains, we’re doubtful. The kits available in Canada contain a lower concentration of whitening agent than dentist- dispensed programs. They may also cause irritation to the gums and mouth because the mouth trays aren’t custom fitted and the gel can ooze out.

We don’t like irritation.

Plus, the supervision of a dentist is always a good thing. For example, Philips says quitting a whitening program too soon can create a spotted look because some stains are removed faster than others. And a dentist can help you decide when you’ve reached a natural but sufficiently bright shade of white.