- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Think twice about that Hollywood smile. Dentists now fret that Americans may be getting addicted — yes, addicted — to dazzling white teeth and the assorted pastes, goops and apparatus that make them so.

That row of home-bleached, lightning-bright choppers are actually “toilet bowl teeth,” with a characteristic “unnatural and uniformly white appearance, like a toilet bowl or Chiclets gum,” the Chicago Dental Society (CDS) said yesterday. The trend has become so common that the members of the Illinois-based group advise their patients not to bleach their teeth whiter than the whites of their eyes, lest they look bizarre.

A recent CDS poll of 350 dentists reveals that 40 percent are concerned their patients are overdoing it.

“Teeth-whitening preparations are so readily available that anyone could be tempted. Once they get going, teeth never seem quite white enough, so they try again. It really can be an addictive thing,” said Dr. Maharukh Kravich, a Chicago dentist and CDS spokeswoman.

Indeed, Oprah Winfrey featured a young woman on her TV show Monday who sheepishly confessed to the audience — and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the program’s consulting physician — that she was “obsessed” with bleaching her teeth every single day with a peroxide-powered gel and couldn’t seem to stop.

“You’re addicted to it,” Miss Winfrey said, while the doctor voiced his disapproval.

“These products are very subject to overuse and misuse. People don’t read the instructions or are in a rush,” Dr. Kravich said.

The quest for the Hollywood smile doesn’t come cheap. Last year, Americans spent $1.4 billion on over-the-counter whitening strips, trays, gels, mouthwashes and toothpastes that rely on either bleaching agents or abrasives for effect. The figure has increased 20 percent annually for the past years, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, which began issuing warnings about the products in 2002, along with the American Dental Association.

A monthlong study of 100 dental patients at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, for example, found that 61 percent reported increased tooth sensitivity using the products. Overuse can eventually lead to inflamed gums, rough tooth enamel, splotchy teeth and another disturbing trend — the “skim milk smile,” according to the CDS. Overbleached teeth can appear “translucent blue or gray,” the group reports.

“If you’re using whiteners and your teeth become sensitive to cold air or liquids, you’ve gone way to far. The best thing to do is simply consult a dentist about the proper way to use these products,” Dr. Kravich said.

Still, it may be a challenge to dull the American fixation on bright smiles. Those pearly whites make a person appear to be “more intelligent, interesting, successful and wealthy to others,” according to a survey conducted last year by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

The Wisconsin-based group also reports that whitening is the most requested cosmetic service among its 9,000 members and now recommends a “White Smile Diet” that includes raw vegetables and fruits to help clean teeth, and strawberries and lemons to whiten them.

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