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Teeth Whitening - How White is Too White?

Dear Dr. Dave & Dr. Dee,

My officemate came back from a one week vacation with the whitest bright teeth. I know that she probably had her teeth bleached by the dentist to get her teeth so white so quickly. But, her teeth are the focal point of her face now. Aren't overly white teeth just a bit too much? How white is too white for teeth?


Tacky Teeth

Dear Tacky teeth,

White teeth are attractive, but if the teeth overwhelm the face by their whiteness, then the teeth probably have been overdone. Generally, the whiteness of the teeth should compliment the face, look natural, and be about the same shade as the whites of the eyes.

The desired shade of white for teeth is a personal decision. Celebrities have very white teeth and many people wish to achieve that look. However, what appears fine in magazines, on television, or in movies can look exaggerated in person.

According to Mapes, the number 1 requested cosmetic service is teeth whitening. However, there are dangers to overbleaching. Dr. Irwin Smigel warns that over-bleaching could damage tissues, wear away some tooth enamel and then become translucent, blue or blue gray (Smigel cited in Mapes, 2007:

The American Dental Association (ADA) categorizes teeth whitening into two major groups (2008):

1) Peroxide-containing whiteners or bleaching agents:

a. in the dentist's office: professionally applied products use 15-35 percent hydrogen peroxide, which takes an hour in the office.

b. dentist dispensed for home use, or over the counter: contain 10 percent carbamide peroxide and may take 1-4 weeks for results.

2) whitening toothpastes (dentifrices): contain polishing or chemical agents rather than bleaches to remove surface stains and may take days or weeks for results.

The ADA recommends consulting with a dentist to determine the appropriate treatment.

In addition, celebrity-white teeth may be from veneers, which is a permanent thin shell covering over the front surface of the tooth (imagine a false fingernail). Not only are veneers very expensive at $600 to $1,500 per tooth (, 2008), but according to the American Dental Association, veneers are irreversible because it is necessary to remove a some enamel from the front of your teeth before the shell can be bonded onto it (2009).

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