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Wednesday, June 3, 1998 Published at 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK

Health: Latest News

Light up that smile

Lie back and relax

A cup of coffee might make you feel good, but it can turn your teeth a disgusting shade of yellow. The answer is to have your teeth whitened. It is all the rage in America, but we Brits have been slow to catch up. Now, however, a new method for cleaning teeth has been introduced in the UK. It is a bleaching process that uses light to speed it up. Only two dentists in the country are using it. Jane Goddard reports.

[ image: One more reason to quit smoking]
One more reason to quit smoking
A nice cup of tea, the odd cigarette, a glass of Bordeaux, even some antibiotics - over time, all will damage our pearly whites.

So what can we do to clean them up? There are the standard tooth whitener toothpastes available that will remove stains. They contain abrasives and cost between three and eight pounds.

You can also get oxidising agents that act like bleach. These are capable of whitening as opposed to stain removal, and cost about nine pounds.

Then there are home bleaching kits available by mail order. They are not clinically proven, unlike the ones you can get from your dentist. However, they are expensive, with the treatment costing between 150 and 400 depending on your dentist.

New but expensive

Lavinia Sillars has not bothered with any of the traditional treatments. She has going straight for a new whitening treatment with a cosmetic dentist. It costs 650 but Lavinia hates what she sees in the mirror: "I feel very self conscious about my teeth. For me, they're just too yellow."

[ image: Mervyn Druian is one of two UK dentists offering the new treatment]
Mervyn Druian is one of two UK dentists offering the new treatment
Lying back in the chair, Lavinia is equipped with a pair of orange goggles and her gums are protected with a seal. A bleaching agent is painted on to her teeth in the form of a red gel and a high-intensity light starts a photochemical reaction.

It creates a tremendous amount of heat and it is this that makes the new process so fast. It takes a little under an hour. Contrast this with one alternative treatment that involves wearing a special, bleach-filled gum shield every night for three weeks.

Speed of light

Mervyn Druian, one of only two dentists in the UK offering the new treatment, says it is a major step forward: "The light activates the material to enhance the whitening process. So you've got the light and the heat, and that's why it's so effective."

[ image: Dr Edward Lynch:
Dr Edward Lynch: "whitening systems are safe"
The bleaching agent in the gel is hydrogen peroxide. The quantity used is 3,500 times higher than the amount permitted by EU law. Even so, dentists have been using this concentration for years. So just how safe is it?

Dr Edward Lynch from the Royal London hospital has made a study of the effects. "I believe and have published that whitening systems are safe. And that the heat generated by this new method with a photochemical reaction, which in fact is less than a very hot cup of coffee, is harmless to the tooth. And overall the system works well."

A whiter shade

For Lavinia Sillars, there is every reason to smile. After a good rinse of the mouth, she looks in the mirror and declares her teeth to be "much brighter".

In fact, they are three shades brighter. Mervyn Druian uses a scale system to measure the improvement in whiteness.

"She was slightly darker than shade A4, which is the darkest shade I've got on the scale, and she's gone to around an A2. Her teeth will continue to lighten over the next day or so, so long as I can keep her off the cigarettes, tea and coffee," he jokes. "Skip the red wine for a few days and drink white wine."

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