Tricounty News

Health Talk and You: Seeking that 100-watt smile

U of M News Wire Is it the brilliant smile of Julia Roberts? Whether inspired by their favorite movie stars or by the knowledge that it's now possible, more and more dental patients are seeking treatments that will make their teeth white. Really, really white. New methods to whiten teeth are among the latest advances in dental care. To provide the hottest item, a smile as bright as a lit 100-watt bulb, dentists have available two techniques: bleaching and veneers. Bleaching is quite simple. The dentist creates an impression of the upper and lower teeth from which personalized molds are created. Patients are given their molds and an oxidizing agent, which removes stains on the teeth much as bleach does on white clothes. The molds with the oxidizing agent inside are worn on the teeth for several hours or overnight and the treatment may be repeated. There are bleaching kits sold over the counter, too, but I would advise seeing a professional to avoid any damage to sensitive gums or other problems. Patients with teeth stained because of tetracycline use, for instance, might be disappointed because they typically do not respond well to this bleaching treatment. Veneers are another solution, although they are more expensive than bleaching. These thin glasslike shells, which are custom-made, look somewhat like false fingernails before being applied. The dentist minimally prepares the surface of teeth chosen for veneers, and then the veneers are bonded onto the teeth and immediately, drastically improve smiles. To fix a smile with missing teeth, implants have been very successful. In the past, when patients lost a tooth or a couple of adjacent teeth, they might be advised to have made a bridge or a partial denture to fill the gap. Now, a dentist might recommend an implant, in which a hole is made in the jawbone to set a titanium post. Once the bone has grown around the post, a crown is screwed onto it and the patient regains a very natural-looking "tooth." With advances in dental technology, patients can better know what the dental work will do for their oral health and their bright smiles. Omar Zidan is an associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, specializing in restorative dentistry. This column is an educational service of the University of Minnesota. Advice presented should not take the place of an examination by a health-care professional. For more health-related information, go to