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The truth of teeth: I can afford to be authentic

May 23rd, 2004 · No Comments

I was curious. I confess. I don’t think constantly about the tone of my teeth. But I’d noticed those constant commercials on tv during ice skating season, the ones with the women chatting in a catty way about commitment while flashing bright white smiles. Or the women who somehow find cute guys on motorcycles while they are out window shopping. Again, white white teeth.

When I was younger I was told I had yellow teeth. I was also called Four Eyes and She Who Shops At Kmart. Okay, that last one is a bit fictitious. But not far from the truth – only a more polite version of it .

However I feel I have many other problems in life than what hue my teeth happen to have. More issues to solve and contemplate, more ambition than brightening my dentition.

But when my hygienist mentioned that she had chosen a different paste to polish my teeth after noticing some staining, I thought I’d ask about whitening. I had the time to spare while sitting in the chair.

One of the first sentences my hygienist said was:

Everyone bleaches their teeth.

She then went on to describe an octagenarian who had come in to have her smile brightened for her birthday.

It costs $400 to have my dentist do it in his office. The kits I had seen advertised on TV are much more affordable and my hygienist recommended starting with one of those.

You can afford to drop $22 at Target on a box…

Apparently the whitening lasts depending on diet – she said that it would last a longer time if I don’t “drink coffee, tea or red wine”. The toothpastes that claim to whiten though aren’t worth it, according to her. The kits require 30 minutes twice a day for two weeks. I’d have to find time to fit that commitment into my schedule (maybe during blogging?!)

“More than 50% of the people you know” do some kind of bleaching to their teeth, she told me.

What about the permanent effect to the enamel? I asked.
She replied that so far “the powers that be” don’t see bleaching as harmful.

Bleaching the teeth, she said, brightens the smile and your whole face.

At the end of our conversation, she said to me in a confidential I’m-almost-your-mother-tone, “I’m more aware of this because I’m older than you…Oprah had a show …”

“On marital fidelity?” I couldn’t resist inserting a quip. The correlation between the use of teeth-whitening kits and occurance of extra-marital affairs seemed to be perfect fodder for an Oprah show…(and if there were a correlation, I’d rush right out to Target and get a kit :))

“That too,” she said and then continued “…On lightening your look..and the first thing that was on her list to do was brightening your teeth.”

I don’t know about the Oprah reference – “O” doesn’t hold a lot of water with me – but the rest of the conversation got me thinking. White teeth, after all these years of yellowish, might be nice.

I did express to my hygienist how I like to do things naturally, even mentioning my diaper dilemma. She said she appreciated my preference, but her general tone seemed to be that everyone’s doing it so bleaching’s not a big deal. She smiled repeatedly with her white bright teeth.

I confess I have mixed feelings about bleaching. Anita Sharpe wrote a post on authenticity and too-white teeth.

But for me, the ultra-whites don’t work on most faces, just as jet-black hair, Elvis style, can look kind of creepy with wrinkles.

I’ve never been keen on bleached/colored hair, although I did spend a few adolescent summers sitting under the sun after pouring bottles of lemon juice over my too-brown locks. (As I’ve thought about it recently I’ve wondered if dyeing one’s hair purple or green is different from coloring it blond or brown – is it different to color it something that is supposed to look “natural” or “cover the gray” than coloring it something noticeably “unnatural”?) I’m not sure I believe that bleaching hair or teeth is a sign that someone lacks authenticity. I’ve got my doubts about how healthy and honest it is to change our natural appearance. But I’m not sure it’s a big deal. For $22 teeth whitening is not cheap but I could afford to try it. After listening to my hygienist, I confess I became a bit entranced by the idea…

Abigail and Michaela were also at the dentist at the same time. It was Abigail’s second appointment and Michaela was trying out the chair in anticipation of her first full appointment next time in November. In one year as a family we’ve grown from being a 2 patient family to 4 of us visiting the dentist on a regular basis.

On my way out the door, I asked for an estimate of how much our dental bills will be next year for our family of four. I was given a list of multiplication exercises: 53* 8, 62 *4, 98 * 2, 55 * 4….

Looking at the piece of paper as we walked out the door, adding up the figures in my mind, I realized that I can afford to be authentic with my teeth.


  • A great animation (especially for kids) of bleaching teeth and others at animatedtooth.com.
  • Ted the other night linked to a Wired article on dental tools of the future – including using ozone to whiten teeth…
  • Tags: health