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Consumer Reports Insights

Consumer Reports Insights: The Price of a Whiter, Brighter Smile


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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teeth whitening done at a dentist's office can brighten your smile in as little as one visit, but it can cost hundreds of dollars. On the other hand, over-the-counter home whitening kits cost far less. There's an ever-expanding array of do-it-yourself options, including strips that dissolve or stick on teeth and light-activated whitening trays. But how effective are they?

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Consumer Reports tested eight products, ranging from $17 to $50, and found a clear winner: Crest Whitestrips Supreme. This product was the priciest kit CR tested. And it has limited availability, sold only by dentists and on Web sites such as Amazon.com and Dentist.net.

To test the kits, CR created a test panel of 82 staffers. Each person tested a whitening product and used it as directed by the manufacturer. A digital color-measuring device assessed each staff member's tooth color before and after the course of whitening. The testers also described their experiences with the kits, but ratings are based primarily on whitening scores as recorded by the color-measuring device.

Here are CR's findings:

The best home whitening kits included strips. The one exception was Target's Whitening Dissolving Strips, which rated poorly. And the least effective of all tested was the i-White, a tray with a battery-operated light that supposedly speeds whitening and claims to produce "dental professional results at home."

Sensitivity was common. All packaging on the tested kits say users might experience temporary tooth and gum sensitivity. And some testers did complain of tooth sensitivity to temperature and gum irritation when they used the product. Using a sensitivity-reducing toothpaste might help lessen this discomfort.

Trays didn't always fit. Some of the at-home kits included trays. CR found that those trays come in only one size, so they are unlikely to fit all mouths well. This is problematic because an ill-fitting tray can cause discomfort, and poor fit might prevent proper contacts between teeth and the whitening agents. "I felt like I had to clench my upper lip against the tray to keep it from moving," one tester said. Other common problems reported included difficulty speaking with the tray in place and excess gel from trays oozing out and sliding down the throat.

Bottom line. For much less than what you'd pay at a dentist's office, at-home kits can brighten teeth somewhat, but don't expect extreme results. And it's hard to say how long the whitening effects last.

Other tips

-- Whiteners work only on natural teeth. They don't bleach other dental work, such as caps, crowns, veneers, dentures or white fillings.

-- Note that yellowed teeth are more likely to whiten than teeth with a gray, brown or bluish cast.

-- Prior to considering whitening, think about reducing consumption of certain foods. For example, go easy on tea, coffee and red wine, which stain. Avoid soft drinks, including clear sodas, which contribute to staining by eroding tooth enamel. Brush your teeth after meals. And don't smoke, a practice that has other health benefits as well.

Copyright 2009. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go toConsumerReportsHealth.org. More-detailed information -- including CR's ratings of prescription drugs, conditions, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products -- is available to subscribers to that site.


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