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A photo of a woman with a big smile.

A brilliant smile can always make someone's day. Teeth whitening methods are among the latest and most popular advances in dental care.

Want that 100-watt smile?

From eNews, April 7, 2005

What comes to mind when you think of the actress Julia Roberts? Most people would say her big smile or her teeth. The Hollywood star has pearly whites that many people envy. If you're seeking teeth that sparkle like hers, the two hottest techniques at the dental office are bleaching and veneers.

Whether inspired by their favorite movie stars or by the knowledge that it's now readily possible, more and more dental patients are seeking treatments that will make their teeth white--really, really white.

Teeth whitening methods are among the latest advances in dental care, and dentists offer two techniques: bleaching and veneers. With bleaching, the dentist creates an impression of the upper and lower teeth from which personalized molds are created. Patients are then given their molds and an oxidizing agent--which removes stains on the teeth as bleach does on white clothes--to place inside the molds. The molds or mouth trays are worn for several hours at a time or overnight. The treatment can be repeated if necessary.

"There are bleaching kits sold over the counter, too, but I would advise seeing a professional to avoid any damage to sensitive gums or other [oral health] problems," says U dentist Omar Zidan, who specializes in restorative or cosmetic dentistry. "Patients with teeth stained because of [the antibiotic] tetracycline use, for instance, might be disappointed because they typically do not respond well to this bleaching treatment."

To bleach or not...

According to American Dental Hygienists' Association, bleaching is effective in lightening most stains caused by age, tobacco, coffee, and tea. It reports that 96 percent of patients in clinical studies with these types of stains experience some lightening effects. Those with stains produced by tetracycline (an antibiotic for bacterial infections) or fluorosis (too much fluoride) may respond to bleaching less reliably.

The dental association recommends that bleaching should be done under the care of an oral health care professional, because "overzealous use of over-the-counter home bleaching products can wear away tooth enamel... and some whitening toothpastes are more abrasive than others."

Veneers, which look like false fingernails prior to application, are more expensive than bleaching but can immediately and drastically improve a patient's smile. The custom-made porcelain shells are bonded onto the teeth, and may require two office visits. Sometimes a veneer might chip or fracture, but its typical lifespan is 10 to 20 years. Veneers can cost $700 to $1,200 per tooth, while bleaching kits from the dental office can run from $300 to $500, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

Another way in which a dentist can help you improve the look of your smile is by substituting implants for bridgework.

In the past, when patients lost a tooth or a couple of adjacent teeth, they might have been advised to have a bridge or a partial denture made to fill the gap. But a bridge can create a risk for neighboring teeth used as anchors. These days, a dentist might recommend an implant, in which a hole is made in the jawbone to set a titanium post. Once the bone has grown around the post, a crown is screwed onto it and the patient regains a very natural-looking "tooth."

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