You're surrounded by gorgeous airbrushed models and celebrities all day long-every time you turn on the television, leaf through a magazine, or are driving past a billboard, there's some happy face sporting a huge mouthful of blindingly white teeth. And all of them have smiles so huge and laser-white that you almost have to wear sunglasses to look at them. Everybody today wants to look just like those celebrities, so of course the passion for having the whitest teeth possible is a popular obsession for millions of people the world over. People wanting to make their smile as bright as possible have many options available to them for doing just that. Their obsession can even turn them into what some dentists call "whitening junkies" or "bleach-orexics"-those who just can't seem to reach the ultimate nirvana of pearly whiteness that they're hoping to achieve. But at what cost?
For years, when a patient wanted their teeth whitened, they would look in a mirror at the dentist's office and compare their teeth to sample shade models and pick the most natural-looking upgrade to their existing color. But now, thanks to our society's outrageous focus on physical appearance, the standard shade model is whiter than white. So if people have a blindingly white selection available to them, they'll probably take it. But how white is too white? "You can definitely hurt yourself, absolutely," says Dr. Marlo Griesser, a cosmetic dentist in Sugar Land, Texas. According to Griesser, the side effects of too much bleaching can include gum irritation and damage, and can leave teeth extremely sensitive. And even worse, overbleaching can result in blotchy or discolored teeth. "Possibly some discoloration of the teeth, where you're not getting the color that you want, and it's going to be a multi-colored surface," Griesser says. Plus, whitening products work only on the natural tooth; crowns and cavities cannot be whitened.
Dentists usually advise patients to have a checkup before beginning any teeth-whitening procedure using over-the-counter products. Such at-home treatments can contain ingredients that are too acidic, and they can slowly erode the enamel of the teeth, although the risk for permanent damage is relatively small. If the treatment begins to do serious damage, the patient will usually just stop, but some damage may have already occurred, particularly to gums. Some recent studies have even suggested that too much whitening may lead to oral cancer. However, some researchers have cautioned that the research is still being conducted, and it is probably too early to jump to that conclusion.
If you are really insistent on trying to achieve the dazzling white smile of a Hollywood star, you should remember that most celebrities have veneers over their teeth, and veneers do not require whitening. And of course celebrities have access to a smile-enhancing advantage that most average consumers don't have access to-an airbrush!