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Can Teeth Whitening Become an Addiction?

Seeking the perfect smile? Here's how to make sure you don't get carried away with teeth whitening.
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WebMD Feature

Americans love a white smile. And, increasingly, we're using teeth whitening treatments to get one. Teeth whitening treatments are now the No. 1 requested cosmetic dental procedure, having increased more than 300% since 1996, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

At-home teeth whitening treatments have become increasingly popular as well. An array of over-the-counter tooth bleaching kits can be found in most any drugstore, discount store, or even grocery store.

What Your Dental Health Says About You

teeth
It's easy to ignore the effects of poor oral hygiene because they're hidden in your mouth. But gum disease may point to problems with diabetes and heart disease and loose teeth could be a sign of osteoporosis. Could it be that a healthy mouth means more than just a sparkling smile? And what could your dentist learn about you the next time you open wide?

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But there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. While most would stop short of calling it an addiction, dentists say some people do overdo it in the quest for the perfect smile (or at least one as bright as those of Matthew McConaughey or Julia Roberts).

"Yes, there definitely is a tendency of people to overuse them, although most people don't," says Marty Zase, DMD, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

It's another example of the keeping up with the Joneses, Zase says: "Now the Joneses have white teeth."

"Some people see that some beauty is good, so obviously a lot must be better," he says. "Certainly there are some people that you just can't teach the subtlety of a good thing."

Says Van Haywood, DMD, a professor in the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at the Medical College of Georgia: "Some people look like they just glow in the dark. To us dentists, it looks like the most fake-y thing we've ever seen. But to them, it's beauty."

Are You Overdoing It with Teeth Whitening?

There are two main types of home teeth-whitening products:

  • Whitening strips, thin strips coating with bleaching gel that are applied to the teeth.
  • Tray-based systems, in which a tray filled with beaching solution is worn over the teeth.

Most are meant to be used over a two- to four-week period.

And how long does the whitening effect last? After completing the initial teeth whitening treatment, whether in a dentist's office or using an at-home product, a once-a-month touch-up is probably sufficient, says Matthew Messina, DDS, consumer advisor with the American Dental Association.

People who smoke and drink dark liquids such as tea and coffee might need an update every two weeks.

Your own pearly whites are the best way to tell whether you're overusing teeth whitening products, experts say. Dentists say the biggest signs of overuse are:

  • Excessive sensitivity of the teeth, especially to cold items.
  • Redness, irritation and bleeding in the gums.

Another sign: Your teeth may start to appear translucent or blotchy.

"Some people's teeth get more transparent if you continue whitening. ... You can see right through them and see the dark shadows of your mouth," Haywood says.

(Keep in mind that sensitivity alone doesn't necessarily mean you're overdoing it. About a third of users experience some sensitivity, which goes away in a day or so, Haywood says.)

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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