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Whiten Teeth

Daily, proper home care for your teeth – beyond a quick hand brushing and mouthwash – is vital for lifelong, healthy teeth and gums.

How do those TV personalities get their magnificent white teeth? You can imitate them with the use of rather inexpensive products you can use at home.

Tooth whiteners: Lots of choices –

Getting a brilliant-white smile does not come from simply brushing with a tooth-whitening toothpaste – although that might help with daily brushing – but it will come from dental whitening pastes or strips that can work in as little as 5 minutes.

These “kits” can cost as little as $15 to $50. At your local pharmacy, you can buy either a small bottle and brush, which allows you to “paint” your teeth and leave on for a few minutes, or apply “dental strips or tapes” over your upper and lower teeth. Strips cost about $35 to $45, and all work with peroxide as the brightener.

The principle is the same. There is a bleaching action from peroxide in the product, which will definitely lighten your teeth within a few days – about 5 days to 3 weeks – of use. You can leave some products on overnight. Products like tea, coffee, colas, wine, and smoking will darken the teeth again rather quickly, so the program must be repeated occasionally.

Beyond the “brightening” techniques, which can whiten your teeth up to about eight shades whiter, you must take daily care of your teeth and mouth to create a relatively germ-free environment for your teeth, gums, and soft tissue in general.

Your teeth are the first thing most people notice about you when they look at your face. Crooked, stained, and missing teeth are unattractive. Once you lose your “baby teeth” and get your permanent set of teeth, that is what you will live with for the rest of your life.

For that reason alone, you really want to take habitually good care of your teeth. Besides creating a clean smile, giving shape to your face, and adding to an overall well-groomed appearance, sound, symmetrical, pain-free teeth allow proper chewing, which aids digestion.

Dentists recommend brushing your teeth 3 times per day, including after every major meal and at nighttime. If brushing is not feasible, during work or travel time, try eating a cleansing fruit like an apple or swish water around in your mouth to remove sugary and starchy substances, which form soft plaque that eventually hardens into yellow tartar (calculus).

Floss, use a gum stimulator, and brush (electric):

At nighttime, try to get into a healthy, before-bedtime routine of full dental care for your teeth. If you have not flossed before, take up the practice. Take about 12 inches of floss, create a “bridge” and wrap around both of your forefingers and press down between teeth, rotating around half of each tooth, forwards and back, before moving on to the next.

Next, use a “gum stimulator.” If you have not used this simple device before, it is a metal-handled tool with a pointed, rubber tip on the end. By pressing into the gum and rotating around each tooth, you can clean away the soft food residue before it becomes tartar.

Now is the time you should brush with a plaque-preventing toothpaste like Colgate or Crest. Brush around every tooth, top and bottom. If your gums bleed, you could have the beginnings of periodontal disease.

Prevention is better than the cure – of periodontal disease, that is:

If you have ever had periodontal disease, or know someone who has, treatments are expensive and are not pain-free. By comparison, it could be well worth investing in an electric toothbrush. Once plaque builds up around a tooth, it starts to affect the gum line tissue, and the gum pulls away from the tooth. Affected teeth become loose and can eventually fall out.

Treatment costs around $2000 to $3000 with a periodontist, and the multiple, deep-cleaning treatments are not pleasant, but become necessary to save the teeth. I suffered from the problem over 20 years ago. I learned these techniques from the periodontal hygienist, and I have not had a re-occurrence nor have I had a cavity in the past two decades.

What I learned is that you can prevent periodontal disease with a daily program of good dental hygiene. Regular use of an electric toothbrush costs around $100 for a good brush (my dentist recommended Oral-B by Braun), but that sounds like a worthwhile investment when you think of the alternative. Power brushes rotate their soft-bristles thousands of times per minute and often have built-in timers to alert you to move the brush around the quadrants every few seconds. Many will alert you again when your brushing time is up.

The rotating brushes work around and between the teeth and splay under the gum line to clean every portion of the tooth surface much better than manual brushing. Ask your dentist about it; and consider a powered brush as a hygiene investment for a very important body part – your teeth and mouth.

Notice, if you do the nighttime routine properly, you will not have the too-common “morning-breath” the commercials speak of.

Faster, more costly dental whitening is available for those who like “instant results.”

The one-hour, quick fix:

No matter how well you care for your teeth, if you want to keep them life-long, do check in regularly with a dental hygienist for a professional cleaning twice a year. The dentist will check the work and watch for signs of cavities or gum disease. He can also do tooth whitening treatments in his office, which take about an hour, but it will probably cost about $600 to $800.

Long-term care at home with your dentist’s help:

Your dentist can also make “dental trays” for your teeth from customized dental molds, which you can use at home and fill with dental, bleaching paste daytime or nighttime for a quicker, brighter smile than you may get with the over-the-counter products. You can expect to pay about $275 – $300. Be aware that the high-bleaching action causes many people to experience tooth and gum sensitivity so they quit the program.

Yes, you can “Do it yourself,” but allow your dentist to “check your work” and watch for dental and other health problems (like mouth cancers) at least twice a year.

Even if you are fanatical about dental care, don’t think you don’t need a dentist occasionally. He will watch for problems, and prevention is always better than the cure. Dental disease or a lost tooth can be expensive to deal with, but a full, bright, healthy smile is worth the extra care and a few minutes a day.

Sources: “Consumer Reports,” August 2009. “At-home tooth whiteners differ in effectiveness.”

Some dental treatment prices were quoted from local dentists during the summer of 2009.