You may have thought your grin was good enough until recently, but now you're not so sure, are you?
In the past few years, the smiles of the rich and famous have been getting ever more glistening, and suddenly the selection of tooth-whitening options is mind-boggling: everything from toothpastes for a couple of bucks or strips and gels to in-office bleach or laser treatments that can run you a couple of thou.
Are they safe?
According to the Canadian Dental Association, some of the procedures, "particularly those using lasers and lights, have undergone little scientific assessment."
Do they work? Some better than others, but generally, yeah.
Are they necessary? Depends on who you ask.
What the experts say
"Tooth whitening is a media-driven thing. If you tell people enough times their teeth are too dark, they'll go for something they rarely need. Dentists can clean the surface, but whitening means bleaching the internal structure of the tooth, and within the internal structure there's a nerve. Dentists recommend taking Advil before the procedure or you could be in agony. That doesn't sit well with me. Why would patients need painkillers if there were no trauma to the teeth? I don't think anyone has done long-term research, but it's not an innocuous treatment. As a general rule, the sensitivity will disappear after a while, but it's obviously doing something to the nerve. The only natural way to change the colour of your teeth is to get a tan."
GARY FORTINSKY, dentist, homeopath, Toronto
"Chewing on neem sticks has been a form of dental care in India and Africa for centuries. Neem disinfects and helps maintain healthy gums, thus creating a natural shine on the teeth. Chewing on licorice sticks cleans the mouth and teeth, making them shine. Honey used on teeth and gums will slowly bring shine and health to the teeth. Garlic is a smelly way of getting bright, shiny white teeth."
ANDREA OLIVERA, Ayurvedic Touch, Toronto
"There are studies showing that the levels of bleaching agents that [dentists] use are safe. Carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide are the most common ingredients. The higher the concentration of peroxide, the more effective the procedure will be. Over-the-counter products have the lowest concentration, because they are used without supervision. At-home kits distributed by dentists are more effective. Whitening toothpastes may remove surface stains, and that may be all some people want. Whatever bleaching agent you're using has to actually get inside your teeth to break down the stains. This can cause sensitivity. People can abuse over-the-counter whiteners. If it says to use it for two weeks, don't use it for months and months."
LISA TAM, cosmetic dentist, Toronto
"This is a classic advertising- and image-driven phenomenon. A company invents a solution to a problem most of us weren't aware we even had, and suddenly we're made insecure about the problem and our failure to measure up on one more appearance front. It's not dissimilar to Botox- or collagen-injected lips. The people we see on television or in magazines are all sporting immaculate white smiles, and the rest of us, even though our professions may have nothing to with that level of appearance profile, are suddenly engaged in this process of insidious comparisons."
SHARI GRAYDON, author, In Your Face: The Culture Of Beauty And You, Ottawa
"I don' t quite believe in it. I think for the most part, things that stain the teeth are not good for you, like smoking and coffee drinking. As long as we keep up good oral hygiene, our teeth will be the colour they should be. They shouldn't be whitened to the point where they're the colour of snow. It's not natural. When you see these things in magazines, a lot of it is touch-up."
SHERRY CHEN, naturopath, Toronto