Teeth as white as snow

With campaign season in full blast, politicians are being scrutinized for their looks more than any other time on the political calendar.

Their hairdos and handshakes are important, but so are their smiles. Even Rep. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) teeth were highlighted in a New Yorker piece earlier this year. He lost his primary race against Sen. Arlen Specter, but he had nice, bright, white teeth.

People go through all sorts of rituals to improve their looks. They get themselves glopped and gooed and waxed and pummeled, only to emerge as brighter, more glowing human beings.


So it goes with teeth whitening — a craze that’s picking up speed as more and more over-the-counter products are emerging for the cause. The Hill’s reporters sampled some of the latest — everything from Crest Night Effects to Rembrandt’s trays to a gel you can only get from a dentist.

But first, let’s find out what the latest in bleaching techniques is. Who better than to ask than Michael Blicher (pronounced bleacher), a Washington dentist whose practice is about five blocks from the White House?

Blicher’s main line of attack for teeth whitening is a $350 at-home tray system in which patients are fitted for molds of their teeth.

Blicher makes custom trays that fit over their teeth and gives the patients solutions to take home. They sleep with the trays, or they wear them for 30 minutes a sitting.

The process spans 10 days to two weeks.

“Years later, you can see a difference,” Blicher says.

Sylvia King, a dental assistant at the Washington Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, explains the various procedures used there. Brite Smile is a two- to two-and-a-half-hour procedure that costs $550. Patients come in and watch a movie while they have it done. A barrier is placed on the gums, followed by a gentle peroxide gel on the teeth that stays on for 20 minutes. Then a light is readied, aimed and fired at their teeth for 20 minutes, after which the gel is removed and reapplied.

“We do that for three, maybe four intervals until they get to the whitest they can get,” she says.

“After you have it, you have to stay away from anything with color for the first 24 hours — catsup, mustard, chocolate, coffee, tea, coke — but you can have white breads, chicken with no skin on it, fish or anything white or clear.”

(This reporter can attest that the Brite Smile at-home gel trays do work. Even after one 30-minute treatment, my teeth were significant whiter.)

One of the latest techniques is Zoom, a light-based treatment in which a gel is placed on the teeth; the gel is activated by a light, which the company promises will make teeth up to 10 shades whiter. Dr. Barbara Baxter, a dentist in Dupont Circle, uses a technique called Opalustre, which is usually done on a tooth-by-tooth basis and costs $300 per tooth.

Barber says patients have to be careful with the at-home teeth-whitening trays:
“You don’t want your teeth so white that they look funny.”
— Betsy Rothstein

So how do you whiten your teeth without spending hundreds of dollars?

The Rembrandt Dazzling White Tooth Bleaching Value Kit ($16) comes with all the tools for a three-step process that takes about 30 minutes, twice a day, for two weeks.

In other words, it takes discipline.

The first two steps are easy: brush with the bleaching toothpaste and then rinse with the not-so-flavorful peroxide solution.

This is when the fun begins. The kit comes with two mouth guards, onto which one smears the third component: bleaching gel. But first, one must customize the guards by dipping them in hot water to make them pliable and placing them on the upper and lower teeth to cool in the right shape.

I squeeze a bit of the gel onto the guards and place them on my teeth, top and bottom, Oscar de la Hoya-like.

Having these two pieces of plastic clamped together around my tongue, I soon learn, prevents me from doing anything with my mouth. This includes talking, so it’s best not to attempt the process if you plan a heart-to-heart shortly afterward. The guards also render me unable to spit out the rising tide of bleaching gel and saliva in my mouth.

After only 10 minutes of the suggested 30, I begin to wish I owned one of those vacuums that dentists stick in the side of your mouth. OK, I reason, if I can just get through this last article in the magazine I’m reading, then I’ll reward myself by removing them. It was about then that a long line of drool hit the page.

But I stuck it out for the remaining 10 minutes. And the stuff works. My teeth are noticeably whiter every time I yank these devices out of my head.
— Jeff Dufour

Crest Night Effects promises to whiten your teeth, but it requires a certain degree of alone time. For the past week, I have given this my best shot.

Here’s how it works: First, Night Effects costs $16 at CVS, and a clerk has to open the glass door. She won’t let you touch the package until it is at the counter. The package includes 16 tubes of whitening paste, which you apply with a tiny paintbrush, sort of like what a woman uses to paint her lips.

The painting requires somewhat of an artist’s touch. Before starting, you have to brush your teeth (I do that anyway. It also means there’s an added benefit — one I need — which is that it puts a stop to late-night snacking).

Next, the directions say to dry your teeth “thoroughly.” Once that is done and your mouth is completely dry, the painting begins. Applying the paste evenly can be difficult, and it kept balling up on my mouth, lips and face. The paste is so sticky
that it takes soap and water to remove.

Finally, it’s time to sleep and, if the paste on your teeth is not too much of a distraction, you can fall asleep.

The paste hardens through the night, and when you wake up it is as if glue is on your teeth. You scrub the paste off of your teeth (again) and look forward to repeating the process.

— Jonathan Kaplan