Brush up on whitening

The products can be seen in every grocery store and pharmacy. They promise a beautiful smile filled with blinding bright teeth. Do these teeth whitening products really deliver? The pressure to have a perfect smile

The products can be seen in every grocery store and pharmacy. They promise a beautiful smile filled with blinding bright teeth. Do these teeth whitening products really deliver?

The pressure to have a perfect smile has been on the rise since oral surgery, braces and teeth whitening products have become popular. The use of whitening products has tripled since 2001, according to Information Resources Inc. Before rushing into the teeth-whitening craze, it is important to know the safety of each product and which products work the best.

Recently, questions about the safety of teeth whitening products have surfaced. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association, along with most dentists, recommends that consumers closely follow all directions while using whitening products.

The ADHA Web site reports that “overzealous use of over-the-counter home bleaching products can wear away tooth enamel.”

But, Felipe Sigueroa, office manager of Dr. Ken Cirka’s Gentle Dentistry located on Walnut Street, said just the opposite about the whitening products.

“Contrary to opinion [teeth whitening products] are totally safe,” Sigueroa said. The only negative effect, according to Sigueroa, is “sensitivity due to heavy bleaching over a long period of time, [but it can be] combated with Advil or Tylenol.”

A bigger concern is the recent theory that teeth whitening products can lead to oral cancer. This theory stems from the development of advanced tongue cancer in two young patients. They did not have the usual risk factors but had used teeth whiteners.

Dr. Bruce Davidson, chairman of head and neck surgery at the Georgetown University Hospital, believes the peroxide in whiteners, which is known to promote cancer growth in rats, can seep into the mouth. Though there is the possibility of harmful side effects when using teeth whitening products, more research must be conducted in order to prove any significant negative effects.

“The only possibility [for oral cancer] is if someone whitens their teeth five times a day for 50 years,” Sigueroa said. It is safe, however, to “regularly bleach your teeth, like once a year,” according to Sigueroa.

Even with possible risk, teeth whitening products still promise a perfect smile. Here is some information on the most common whitening products, and what they can do for you.

Whitening Gum

Some chewing gums, such as Orbit, claim they can whiten teeth, but because these gums do not contain peroxide, they are only effective for cleaning and maintaining already white teeth.

Whitening Toothpaste

These products are usually ineffective because the peroxide is not in contact with the teeth long enough. Instead, whitening toothpastes are an effective upkeep method after using a different whitening product. For some people, these types of toothpastes do whiten teeth a shade or two.

Alex Shi, a freshman, uses Arm & Hammer Advance White Toothpaste.

“I can definitely tell my teeth have gotten whiter,” said Shi, adding that the product is hassle-free.

Using toothpaste is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, although teeth and gum sensitivity is often a side-effect.

Brush-on Whiteners

This type of whitener requires the user to paint on a solution containing peroxide and leave it on for a certain amount of time. Freshman Sarah Trull used a paint-on product by Crest and was unhappy with the results. “It didn’t work very well because it would wash off your teeth pretty quickly,” Trull said.

This is a common complaint when using a brush-on whitener. Some users of this whitening-method, however, have seen results. Freshman Mary Champion is one consumer who was surprised after using Colgate Simply White Night. “I think the product works beyond its expectations. I constantly get compliments on how white my teeth are,” Champion said.

White Strips

Whitening strips are placed on teeth for about thirty minutes. This product usually makes teeth about three to four shades whiter. The downside is the extreme sensitivity that most users experience.

Sigueroa said “Crest White Strips are the best” over-the-counter product, but sometimes are “not enough coverage if teeth are larger.”

However, Sigueroa said White Strips were “the best bang for your buck.”

In addition to using Crest’s brush-on whitener, Sarah Trull also used Crest white strips. “I found they work pretty well and you see results in a week.”

At-Home and Custom Kits

These types of kits include a tray and whitening gel. The at-home kit requires the user to boil and form the tray to his or her mouth. Custom kits require the user to send an impression to a lab. Both of these kits are the best over-the-counter whitening products, because the results produced are usually the closest to professional teeth whitening.

“Standard trays lighten six shades at most in about two weeks time,” Sigueroa said. These trays still “aren’t as good” as professional teeth whitening systems, according to Sigueroa.

Sophomore Paul Sulzer, an international business and economics major, agrees that these kits turn your teeth several shades whiter. “I used a professional kit that I bought at a discount from my orthodontist. It worked and stayed white,” he said. Although heightened tooth and gum sensitivity is a negative side effect, teeth usually become dramatically whiter.

For more information on teeth whitening products and their effects you can visit For information concerning the study between oral cancer and teeth whitening products, visit

Morgan Ashenfelter can be reached at

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