How Pearly Are Your Whites?

Mar 13th 2023

Just how white are your pearly whites?

After years of morning coffee, red wine, cigarettes or just the usual wear and tear, more Americans are asking themselves this, and they’re shelling out big bucks for teeth bleaching products.

Reliable statistics on the fledgling industry are hard to come by, but according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, teeth whitening procedures in dental offices grew by 300 percent between 1996 and 2000.

“People want to feel good about their smile,” said Dr. Matt Hansen, a dentist at Central Park Dentristy in Mason City.

Sales of over-the-counter products also are soaring. Americans spent more than $328 million on whitening toothpastes, bleaching strips, gels and powders in 2003, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.

“Anything that enhances a person’s self-confidence makes a difference in how they project themselves,” Hansen said.

Kiki Jutting of Mason City started using bleaching trays at home three years ago to achieve a “nicer smile.” The trays, which she now uses for about two hours every two weeks, are easy to use, she said.

“If anyone wants to be whiter,” she said, “I’d recommend it. I get a lot of compliments.”

In-office bleaching

The fastest way to go, this will take between one and two hours at the dentist’s office or a teeth-whitening spa. It’ll set you back about $400 to $600, depending on where you have it done.

At-home bleaching trays

With this method, the dentist takes a mold of the patient’s mouth and then sends her home with a custom-fitted tray and prescription-strength bleaching gel. Patients wear the trays a few hours each night or day, and in 7 to 10 days their teeth are white. The cost typically runs from $300 to $400.

Over-the-counter methods

For those who chose to go the cheaper, more convenient route and pluck their teeth-whitening miracle off the grocery store shelves, there are dozens of products.

The cheapest option, whitening toothpastes, often work by using tiny scouring particles that literally scrape the grime off teeth. On normal enamel, it’s harmless, says Gary Radz, a Denver dentist and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. “But if you have a porcelain cap or crown, it will scratch them and make them more susceptible to future staining,” he says.

Other polishes include chemicals that bleach the teeth. But the concentration of active ingredient is far less than that of the prescription bleaching gels.

“Most dentists feel that the contact time to the tooth is not long enough to make much of a difference,” Radz says.

Crest Whitestrips do have solid scientific studies suggesting they work. While they may not get all the nooks and crannies a custom-fit bleaching tray will, many patients report good results, says Dr. Robert Murphy, a dentist in Boulder, Colo.

Other products include a white-out-type peroxide product and a gel-dispensing pen that patients paint on their teeth.

There is one other place to find teeth-bleaching products: on the Internet. That’s one place Murphy doesn’t recommend shopping for a brighter smile.

“I don’t know about the quality control of the stuff they are selling,” he says.