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Grin And Bare It!
Invisible braces, lunchtime laser whitening, veneers--tips and techniques for getting the perfect smile (and keeping it for a lifetime)

BY: Amy Synnott
In Style Magazine
March, 2001
Page 337

"When people look at each other, the first thing they notice is the smile," says N.Y.C. cosmetic dentist Jan Linhart. Chances are, if you've been abusing your teeth--drinking too much coffee, neglecting to floss, blowing off your dentist--it's going to show. Maybe your teeth are a little gray, or your gums bleed when you brush too hard. The good news: The damage is completely reversible with proper oral hygiene and new cosmetic techniques. With easier options for whitening and straightening teeth, you can even improve on the original. "Of all the ways to change how you look, fixing your smile is the simplest," says Linhart. "It's an instant improvement that totally changes your appearance." --Amy Synnott

the basics: brushes & pastes Brushing the wrong way can hurt more than it helps. Learn how to make a clean sweep

brushing up: Experts say the best toothbrushes have small heads and soft bristles. "Hard bristles and large heads are rough on your gums and can wear down the enamel," says New York City cosmetic dentist Ziba Yaghmai. While most agree that a manual toothbrush is sufficient, some believe the scrubbing action of an electric toothbrush is more effective. "The rotary motion is similar to that of machines the hygienist uses to clean your teeth," says New York City prosthodontist Steven M. Butenski. When brushing, Yaghmai suggests, divide your mouth into four quadrants: upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right. Begin at the back of the mouth (you're less likely to overlook it if you start there) and move forward, cleaning two teeth at a time with your brush tilted at a 45-degree angle (to alleviate pressure on the gums). Do outside surfaces, then inside surfaces, then chewing surfaces. To clean the inner surfaces of your front teeth, hold the brush vertically and use gentle up-and-down strokes. Brushing should take two to five minutes.

find your paste: "If your biggest concern is preventing cavities, fluoride should be one of the first ingredients on the label," says New Jersey cosmetic dentist Anthony Vocaturo, D.D.S. "Fluoride strengthens the enamel on teeth, so you're less likely to get cavities." Be careful using tartar-control formulas--especially if you have worn enamel or receding gums. "They contain abrasive ingredients like baking soda or pyrophosphate that can scratch the enamel and irritate gums," says Yaghmai. If you want to use a tartar-control paste, she suggests alternating it with a gentler toothpaste like Enamelon or Sensodyne. "These contain potassium nitrate, which remineralizes the enamel, and they desensitize teeth," says Yaghmai. If you have dry mouth, try an antibacterial toothpaste such as Biotene. "When you sleep, saliva production naturally slows down," says Yaghmai, who notes that age and certain medications can worsen the problem. "The enzymes in an antibacterial toothpaste increase saliva production, which eliminates the bacteria that cause dry mouth."

OUT, DAMNED STAINS! Easy steps for brightening up

"Anything that has a dye in it can cause stains on the surface of the teeth," says Butenski. To minimize the damage: Brush after every meal, floss twice a day, and try to use a straw when sipping any dark-colored beverage. "That way, it's less likely to hit the surface area of the front teeth," says Lana Rozenberg, a New York City cosmetic dentist and owner of the Dental Day Spa.

avoid: coffee, tea cigarettes red wine cola grape juice

freshen up: mouth rinses & flosses One can help minimize bad breath; the other is a hygiene must

rinse cycle: "If you have halitosis, mouthwash should never be used as a substitute for seeing a dentist," insists Ziba Yaghmai. Of course, if the problem has to do with garlic--not tooth decay--a mouthwash can provide temporary relief (for one to four hours). Pick one that's colorless and alcohol-free, like Rembrandt (don't let the blue bottle deceive you; it's clear). "Alcohol dehydrates your mouth, which can make bad breath worse," explains Yaghmai, "and anything that's pigmented can stain your teeth if you use it enough." Keep this in mind if you're considering a fluoride rinse such as ACT; most of them are colored too. "If you have good hygiene, you probably don't need a fluoride rinse," says Yaghmai, noting that most people get enough fluoride from toothpaste and tap water. If you have cuts in your mouth, use a rinse with hydrogen peroxide such as Colgate Peroxyl. "The peroxide minimizes bacteria and soothes gums," says Yaghmai. Or try this homemade alternative: Mix a teaspoon of table salt into one glass of water. "This is the best rinse of all. It won't stain your teeth, and the salt kills any bacteria that could cause infection or bad breath."

flossing 101: "You should always floss before you brush," says Yaghmai. Flossing removes food particles and plaque from under the gum line and between the teeth--areas a toothbrush can't reach. Neglecting to floss is the surest way to

evelop gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums that can ultimately lead to periodontal disease. Use a floss, such as Glide, that is made with natural fibers (they're gentler on the gums than synthetic fibers). Break off about 18 inches, winding most of it around the middle fingers of both hands. Start between the upper molars. Using your thumbs and forefingers, slide about an inch of taut floss between your teeth, curving the floss around the tooth in a C shape at the gum line. Slide the floss gently up and down between each tooth surface and gum, making sure you go beneath the gum line. Repeat on the rest of your teeth with clean sections of floss.

BREATH SAVERS How to cure halitosis

"If you have chronic bad breath, you really need to find out the cause," says Yaghmai. An underlying problem such as tooth decay, gum disease, diabetes or malnutrition may be responsible. "Vitamin C deficiencies can cause horrible breath," says Yaghmai, who notes that halitosis can also be caused by bacteria on the tongue. Certain medications such as antidepressants can exacerbate bad breath because they reduce saliva production, a natural cleansing agent. Ditto for alcohol, caffeine and other diuretics. The best advice: See a dentist, drink lots of water, brush your teeth after every meal, scrape your tongue before bed, and don't let anything come between you and your floss.

lightening options Too many cups of latte do not a pretty smile make--but there are brightening techniques for every budget

Move over, Vanna White. Thanks to recent advances in laser technology and bleaching techniques, perfect pearly whites are no longer just for actors--or game-show hosts. "Ten years ago we didn't even have instant bleaching," says Linhart. "Now it's accessible to the average person."


The peroxide contained in whitening toothpastes helps break down the film that causes plaque, the main source of superficial stains on the surface of teeth. "These are good if you want to maintain a bright smile, but they aren't as effective at removing stains as bleaching trays are--the paste doesn't stay on the teeth long enough, and the concentration of peroxide is too low," says Larry Rosenthal, a New York City cosmetic dentist. Avoid pastes that contain abrasives like pumice or baking soda. "They can scratch the teeth," he says.


"This is a quick, inexpensive and easy way for people with mildly discolored teeth to boost their smile," says Rosenthal. Crest, the company that makes the strips, claims that if you wear these thin, peroxide-covered strips for 30 minutes twice a day, you will see results in 14 days. But don't expect a transformation. "It's more effective than whitening paste but less effective than a professional bleaching system," says Rosenthal. "It only gets the front teeth, and the strips sometimes slip around, which can cause incomplete bleaching."


By applying an intense light to highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide on the teeth, dentists can bleach teeth up to ten shades in just a couple of hours. Though it's one of the quickest ways to dramatically lighten your teeth, it can cause extreme sensitivity, especially if you have gum recession or microcracks in the teeth. Still, the quick, precise procedure actually gives you more control over what shade you end up with. Prices range from $ 500 to $ 2,000.


For people with intrinsic stains that penetrate the tooth (caused by certain medications, aging or malnutrition), porcelain veneers are the only solution. These thin, ceramic shells, which last up to 15 years, can do anything from hide stains to fill in gaps. But you may not be smiling when you get the bill: $ 1,200 to $ 2,000 per tooth.

home bleaching

"This is the most effective way to bleach teeth because you get a high concentration of peroxide, it stays on the teeth a long time, and it doesn't move around," says Rosenthal. But it doesn't work overnight: You have to wear a custom-fitted tray filled with hydrogen peroxide every day (depending on the system, from one hour to all night long) for two to three weeks. Unlike Whitestrips, all of the teeth, not just the front ones, are bleached. The biggest drawback: If the trays don't fit well, the hydrogen peroxide can irritate your gums. To reduce irritation, ask your dentist for a fluoride solution. Cost: $ 500 to $ 1,000 for all teeth.

dental Q&A What you've always wanted to know about teeth but forgot to ask your dentist

Q Is there really such a thing as invisible braces?

Until magician David Blaine tries his hand at orthodontics, the closest thing is Invisalign, a new system that straightens teeth with clear, customized aligners. Here's how they work: A mold is taken of your teeth to create a series of thin, plastic aligners. Every two weeks, you get a new aligner that adds more pressure (as with regular braces, it takes six months to two years to straighten teeth). "You feel the same pressure as with regular braces because the teeth are moving," says N.Y.C. orthodontist Jennifer Salzer, "but there are no wires." Nor is there any fear of getting lettuce stuck in your braces. "You take it out to eat and to brush your teeth," says Salzer. Prices vary among orthodontists, but Invisalign costs about the same as metal braces ($ 3,000-$ 9,000). The big drawbacks: They may not work for severely crooked teeth, and they may impair speech at the start, a problem that usually goes away in a few weeks.

Q I've heard you can get tooth-colored fillings. How much do they cost?

A resin composite costs 20 to 30 percent more than a regular metal filling, according to Anthony Vocaturo. But many feel it's worth the investment: Not only are they invisible, but the newest composite fillings also bind better to the tooth, so you're less likely to get cracks, which can lead to cavities. "Metal expands and can break loose from the tooth, leaving a gap," says Vocaturo.

Q What is a proxabrush?

Designed for people who have large gaps between their teeth or who use braces or bridges, a proxabrush (left) looks like a tiny pipe cleaner attached to a plastic handle. "It's like a reusable toothpick," says Linhart. "Some people who don't even have braces use it because it's quick and easy, but it's not as effective as floss. It doesn't wrap around the tooth or get below the gum line. It's also hard to reach the back teeth." More important, if you have no big gaps, it won't even fit between your teeth.

Q Is dental gum good for your teeth? Can it really help whiten them?

Any sugarless gum will have a positive effect on general dental health, says Linhart. "The mechanical action of chewing helps loosen plaque and stimulate saliva production, which helps reduce decay." But be wary of any gum that claims to have whitening properties. To lighten teeth, it would have to contain peroxide, which none do. "Anything strong enough to whiten teeth would be too irritating to the surrounding tissues," says Linhart. Another problem: "Gum doesn't even touch the front of the teeth, just the chewing surface."

Q I've heard kissing can spread gum disease. Insane, right?

"Believe it or not, it's true," says Linhart. "Periodontal disease is bacterial, and if you're swapping saliva, you can catch it." But before you swear off kissing, ask yourself this: Do you or your partner have bad breath or puffy red gums? "Bleeding gums are usually the first thing people notice." Fortunately, gingivitis, the fledgling stage of periodontal disease, is completely reversible. "It's caused by not flossing or not going to the dentist," says Linhart. Bottom line: Invest in floss and you won't have to worry as much about bad breath--or spreading gum diseases.

dental spas

With dental day spas cropping up around the country, visiting the dentist is quickly becoming the beauty indulgence du jour. At Brite Smile (above), a Lunchtime Power Bleach, which lightens teeth up to 10 shades, takes just an hour. At Lana Rozenberg's Dental Day Spa in N.Y.C., a Prophy Power Polish, which can whiten teeth up to one shade, takes just 30 minutes (and it comes with a hand massage).


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