Did you know people with whiter teeth are viewed more favourably on first impressions? Numerous studies, including one commissioned by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, show that our smile plays a huge part in how others perceive us. More recently, researchers from the universities of Leeds and Central Lancashire in the UK found that a set of white, even-spaced teeth made people seem more attractive. It was deemed to be a sign of health and genetic quality to the opposite sex.
Though a white smile may be visually more appealing, a healthy smile is the most important thing.
In the UK, Europe and Australia, there have been crackdowns on DIY teeth-whitening products in recent months. This follows hundreds of complaints about bad treatments, with some kits found to contain dangerous levels of bleach or peroxide that can cause chemical burns to the gums and mouth, as well as many other nasty side-effects.
‘I wouldn’t advise people to use home whitening kits bought from pharmacies,’ says Dr Maximilian Riewer, general dentist at Dubai Sky Clinic. ‘The trays may not be fitted correctly, which can cause the hydrogen peroxide [whitening] gel to overspill and cause gum damage.’
But what about people who can’t afford expensive professional whitening? Dr Riewer acknowledges that people will go against this advice, but suggests extreme caution. ‘We strongly recommend that you check to see if the material you use for whitening is approved by the ADA [American Dental Association]’.
The safest way to whiten teeth, he says, is with the help of a dentist – not necessarily in the dentist’s chair, but using kits provided by licensed dental clinics. ‘This home bleaching with the lowest concentration of hydrogen peroxide is the safest – just make sure that the kits have custom-made trays that fit perfectly,’ he explains. For the best results, he suggests that plasma whitening and home whitening be used together – the former can be completed in a licensed dental practice. Wherever you go, make sure the kits come from the US or Europe, and hold an ADA seal.
For a truly healthy smile, you need to take care of your teeth regularly. Given the region’s love of coffee (and a prevalent bad habit when it comes to smoking), it seems obvious that staining and discolouration of the teeth is a potential problem – and, for the record, apparently that will happen whether you take yours black or white. Yet that’s not the only thing we should be looking out for.
‘Drinking coffee in excess could lead to erosion of the enamel of the teeth,’ Dr Riewer explains. ‘Smoking and chewing tobacco can make you four times more likely to develop oral cancer, and then there’s bad breath, bone loss, shrinking gums, mouth sores, hairy tongue and a decreased sense of taste and smell,’ he continues. ‘Smokers also develop more calculus [hardened dental plaque] than non-smokers.’
Fizzy drinks and fruit juice can have similar effects to coffee and cigarettes, thanks to their high acidity levels, which can lead to staining and enamel erosion. According to The Dental Spa’s Dr Amer Amer, the only reversible damage to teeth is staining, and even then he issues a stark warning. ‘Don’t use whitening to cover up or mask problems that actually require proper medical attention. So many people treat their teeth like they do their shoes – a quick buff at the front and off you go, but it doesn’t work like that.’
Other than quitting the habit and moderating our intake acid, what else should we be doing to maintain a healthy smile? ‘Brushing and flossing are the most important things to keep teeth and gums healthy,’ explains Dr Riewer. ‘To prevent cavities, we always ask patients to brush their teeth to remove plaque, the transparent layer of bacteria that coats the teeth.
The best way to do this is by brushing after meals for three minutes, or twice a day, flossing at least once a day. Brushing also stimulates the gums, which helps keep them healthy and prevents disease.’
As for mouthwash, if you want to use it for fresh breath, always opt for something without alcohol, because it can irritate the tongue’s soft tissue and the taste buds. The alcohol can also make bad breath worse after a few hours. ‘If you have constant bad breath or feel that something isn’t quite right in your mouth, don’t use mouthwash as a fix-it,’ says Dr Amer. ‘Go to see your dentist’.
And finally, the great debate: when choosing a toothbrush, are hard or soft bristles best? ‘It’s best to use soft,’ says Dr Riewer. ‘A hard-bristled brush can damage the gums, the roof surface and protective enamel, and long-term use can lead to gum recession and tooth sensitivity. For even more protection, make sure the bristles have rounded tips.’
‘Always soft,’ Dr Amer agrees.
‘And always electric.’