Monday, October 27, 2008

Myth Busters: The Facts About Teeth Whitening

Here at the Boston dental office, we receive lots of calls regarding teeth whitening. People have many questions . . . which concerns me because of all the procedures a dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon can perform on you, teeth whitening is the absolute safest.

Because I firmly believe in educating people about the dentistry options available, here are the myths and the facts about teeth whitening (in no particular order).

Myth: The blue light is a laser.

Fact: The blue light is a metal halide UV light, not a laser. Dentists and those offering teeth whitening at the mall use this light to help break down the hydrogen peroxide. As it breaks down, oxygen is released into the air. The peroxide molecules then oxidize the pigmented compounds trapped in the tooth's enamel into colorless by-products -- thus producing a lighening effect on the teeth.

Myth: Professional whitening is more effective than Crest White Strips.

Fact: Both types of treatment work equally well. The benefit of having your teeth professionally whitened is two-fold: you have a dentist ensuring you're a good candidate for teeth whitening, and professional whitening is faster (45 minutes versus weeks of at-home treatments).

Myth: Teeth whitening hurts.

Fact: Gums and teeth can be very sensitive to the hydrogen peroxide. Most tooth whitening procedures increase teeth sensitivity for twenty-four hours until the teeth become remineralized by saliva. When you use OTC white strips on daily basis, however, your teeth are sensitive to the strips' 6% hydrogen peroxide for the entire month. Ouch!

Myth: You will achieve a movie star smile -- whiter than white.

Fact: Whether you have your teeth professionally whitened or use OTC strips, your teeth will never become so white that you glow like the stars in the TV show Friends. Our teeth are not naturally white -- they are either a shade of yellow, brown or gray. Coffee, wine and tea do not really darken teeth, they just create an extrinsic stain which is polished off easily. However, you still have the same color teeth. Teeth also become more yellow as we age as the enamel thins and the dentin, which is yellow, thickens.

Myth: The whitening goes away after a short period of time.

Fact: You can maintain your new smile for about 18 months. If you use OTC white strips a few nights every month, the whiteness may last a little longer. You can have your teeth whitened more than once.

Myth: Anyone can get their teeth whitened.

Fact: If your front teeth have been capped or you have crowns, teeth whitening will not work for you. A crown, which is a synthetic material, cannot be whitened. I also advise that pregnant and lactacting women hold off on getting their teeth whitened until a later date.

Myth: Only dentists can perform teeth whitening procedures.

Fact: You can now get your teeth whitened at special kiosks at the mall and even at gyms! However, the technicians who perform the procedure are not dentists -- or even medical experts, which is why the procedure often costs much less than what you would get a dental office. Teeth whitening techs are not allowed to put their fingers in your mouth and must use "trays" that you insert into your mouth yourself.

If you do have your teeth whitened outside of a dental office, make sure the tech changes gloves between each procedure, that the area is clean and well-lit, and that the company doing the whitening isn't marketing "laser whitening"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

GMA Wakes Up and Smells the Coffee re: Oral Cancer

Well, it's refreshing to see that the mainstream media is *finally* covering the link between oral sex and throat cancer -- something I have been talking about for over a year now.

In fact, we've been trying to get the attention of the Today Show for MONTHS, only to be ignored for (pardon the pun) sexier topics.

You can view the very informative Good Morning America video with Diane Sawyer here.

You can also read my blog postings on this topic -- as well as view the demonstration on how easy it is to screen for oral cancer -- posted below.

All of this goes to show, if you want UP TO DATE information about your oral health, check the Dr. Helaine Smith Successful Smiles blog, first.

Study Debunks Oral Sex Myth -- Maybe

STDs Affect One in Four Teenage Girls

Connection Between Throat Cancer and Oral Sex

And, don't forget to download my e-book, "Healthy Mouth, Healthy Sex," which you can find in the margin to the right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dentists are More Than Tooth Plumbers

I'm very pleased to announce my first post with the Website. A relatively new site, is geared toward professionals in the dental industry.

Take a peek at my first post, "Let's Be More Than Just Tooth Plumbers" and let me know if you agree -- or disagree -- that dentists should be "mouth physicians" and not just "drill and fill" specialists.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What the Candidates’ Smiles Say About Their Personalities

While watching the recent debates, I found myself analyzing the presidential candidates and their smiles and concluded that their smiles give clues into their personalities – and possibly their governing style.

John McCain’s yellow teeth and a gold crown on his upper right molar show his age. He probably got that gold crown in the Navy because few dentists do those anymore.

In addition, he has old amalgam or silver fillings in the posterior teeth – and the bluish black color of the fillings shines through, making his smile and his teeth look worn and very old.

Like John McCain, Joe Biden also has a smile that shows his age. It appears that Biden may have a denture for his mandibular or lower teeth. In addition, his maxillary or upper teeth appear to be a rehab of older crowns. The combination of old and new dental work isn’t well integrated. His upper teeth are dull due to old porcelain crowns and his mandibular teeth are very flat – they look like a denture or an even an older rehab of crowns.

The fact that John McCain has not whitened his teeth – which could be done quite easily while on a ride on the Straight Talk Express – or replaced those black fillings with tooth-color fillings says a lot.

He’s not concerned with looking his age or with how other people view him. It could be he views teeth whitening as ‘too Hollywood’ – a perception that goes against his ‘maverick’ personality.

Biden, on the other hand, would benefit from having wider maxillary teeth and less taper, which would offset his long face, and give him a more powerful smile. Right now his smile is too flashy – and this is because the new work on his upper teeth doesn’t reflect the light well. Hence, his smile may not look sincere to some people and thus he may not come across as trustworthy. And, because his lower teeth are flat, I would hazard a guess he grinds his teeth due to stress.

Because they are younger and benefited from regular dental care as children and teens, both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have beautiful, youthful smiles. Obama’s teeth have retained their enamel and natural shape – an indication he doesn’t suffer from teeth grinding, even with the stress of the Presidential race.

Obama’s teeth are simply gorgeous naturally – and they add significantly to his star power.

Palin, on the other hand, had orthodontic treatment as a teen but her right central tooth is shorter than her left tooth. Thus, she doesn’t have symmetry between her front two teeth – a problem that is easily rectified with cosmetic dentistry.

She may have decided against cosmetic dentistry because she’s not as concerned with how she looks – the same as her running mate, John McCain. She’s an outdoor type who keeps busy and active – fixing a minor imperfection is not on her list of priorities. However, her teeth are oval shaped and very pretty and they perfectly match her heart-shaped face.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Getting Your Teeth Whitened at the Mall -- Good or Bad?

Fox News in Boston ran a great segment Sunday night about those teeth whitening kiosks you find at the mall. (Reporter Maria Stephanos blogged about why they were running the story back in September.)

As far as educating consumers, the Fox team did a great job. Teeth whitening at the mall is different than what you get “chairside” from dental professional. The technicians at the mall kiosks are able to perform the procedure in about 15 minutes using soft trays coated with peroxide.

The difference between this procedure and something like the Zoom! teeth whitening procedure is that the dentist puts the peroxide solution on your teeth and monitors the procedure –- whereas at the kiosk you put the trays into your mouth yourself. This way, the technician cannot be cited for practicing dentistry without a license. And, the price at the kiosk is pretty good -- $129 versus $300 or $400 for a visit to the dentist.

The other difference is that the percentage of peroxide in the Zoom! gel is very high, much higher than what you get with many of the tray and OTC products.

As this news segment showed, teeth whitening is a very simple and safe procedure. Whitening is safe for everyone, including pregnant woman and children. The gel is a strong concentration of hydrogen peroxide, which is extremely safe; however, it can cause temporary gum irritation if it’s placed on the gum tissue.

Isolation of the tissue and lips is important, which is one reason why you want to see an experienced professional. Additionally a dental office is available for questions and guidance.

We’ve done a lot of teeth whitening in my office over the last ten years, during which time I’ve evolved with the technology and trends. I used a laser initially and now we use a UV light.

We live in a world that wants results immediately and a Zoom! procedure done in 90 minutes seems to fit my patients’ busy lifestyles. I am more than happy to provide this service, but if you are diligent and want to spend a month using the over the counter Crest White strips, you will get the same result. I give my patients this information, but most want the fast results that Zoom! provides.

Once you whiten your teeth, you have to maintain them using at home trays or white strips. If you don’t touch up your teeth about once a month within 19 months of the initial whitening, your teeth will rebound close to their original shade.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Blame the Dentist or The Victim?

According to an Associated Press story hitting the local media, “the state attorney general's office has sued three former dental offices in the state whose workers allegedly persuaded low-income patients to get expensive and often unnecessary dental work they could not afford.”

I had three people tell me that the promo to the evening’s local news was about dentists scamming patients.

Of course, I was interested in finding out more. Since I was working – not scamming patients – I couldn’t see the story on TV and had to search for it online after I had finished with patients.

As a dental professional, I do not defend this action at all. I am sure the charges are serious if the AG’s office is involved.

However, the sensationalist promo made it seem as if all dental healthcare professionals are crooks. I resent this. And more important, did the dentists being charged hold a gun to these patient’s heads and make them take out a loan? Were these people taken advantage of – in much the same way as those who have lost their homes to foreclosure? Or, are they just as responsible as the dentists?

The local Boston media does not run many stories on advances in dental medicine – of which there are many. Lord knows I’ve spent a good few years sending out press releases and other information in the attempt to educate consumers – only to be met with dead silence.

However, let those who are less fortunate get taken advantage of, and the media is quick to do a story.

People, I admit it, there are bad dentists, doctors, plastic surgeons, etc. out there. You simply *cannot* assume that just because someone has a framed diploma hanging on the wall that he or she is competent. You *have* to ask questions including:

What types of continuing education classes have you taken? (Don’t be afraid to ask for evidence of this ongoing training in the form of certifications.)

How long have you been practicing? How many hours have you put in?

Are you certified by any of the leading industry associations, such as the American Medical Association or the American Dental Association?

What other doctors do you work with? Can you give me their contact information? (You want to see who is in the doctor's network.)

In addition, ask for five references -- including references from people who had work done two or three years ago – and call *all* of them. If someone is having any problems with the outcome of the procedure, it will show up after the first year.

You'll also want to ask around to see if anyone in your circle of friends or co-workers has heard of the doctor or dentist.

Unfortunately, it does behoove consumers to protect themselves. To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly, no one is looking out for you. You have to do it yourself.