Saturday, July 21, 2018

"Everyone loves a bright white smile"

by Matt Weston (writer), New York, January 17, 2007


The Hollywood lawyer. The Valley girl. The Sunset Strip debutard. Add to that list: the SoCal dentist. While the others may seem untouchable, if you're free between 12-1pm, this one is a phone call away.

I arrive to my first dentist appointment in Los Angeles twenty minutes late and out of breath. I am led to the examination chair and a nautical magazine is offered to me. I take it, appreciating the care with which my empty moments in the office are being filled. The dentist will be right with me. I am in good hands. To thank him, I will be smiling with clean, white teeth when he comes.

My smile, as it happens, is no red carpet. In fact, when I smile I am not smiling with clean, white teeth at all. They are not white; they are yellow. The dentist informs me that this is natural. As adult teeth replace deciduous or "baby" teeth, enamel shows off its true colors: light yellow to grayish white. Liters of morning coffee, nursing head colds with herbal tea, and the five o' clock cigarette have all been a slow death for sparkle. The dentist assures me this can be corrected, reversed. Action can be taken. Had I ever thought of whitening my teeth?

I had not. Luckily, the American Dental Association has been considering, researching, and issuing memos on teeth whitening for over a decade. According to an entry on "Tooth Whitening Treatments," the ADA states, "everybody loves a bright white smile, and there are a variety of products and procedures available to help you improve the look of yours … If you decide you would like to go beyond [brushing twice daily] to make your smile look brighter, you should investigate all of your options." If you are incredulous on the number of options available to you, a Google Image search under "white teeth" returns an absolute bonanza of mouthpieces, mouthguards, spreads, sprays, strips, caps, gels, washes, and wipes. This is as much a testament to the ever-cresting tsunami of new health products as it is to image-obsession.

That search is a bizarre yet illuminating one. It is part window into charlatan dentistry, part visual evidence of the intersecting planes of pain and beauty, part faith in the supreme power (socially, sexually) of a white smile, of giving “good face.” Copalite,, a must-see landmark on this search, folds each part into a nightmarish mix of chemistry and marketing. “A varnish and its thinner/ solvent used since 1929 in dental universities worldwide,” Copalite “is applied under gold and amalgam restorations. It is easy to use.” Easy, eh? Just how does this stuff work, anyway? “Using metal cotton pliers, place a cotton pellet in the varnish, then swab the cleaned cavity. Air dry and reapply varnish. Air dry again to see a shiny hard surface which is ready to receive the gold or amalgam restoration.”

Gold? Varnish? Pliers? 1929??? I realize it is unfair to single out one company as the villain. There must be hundreds of firms pushing similar, potentially gum- and enamel-rotting products. Let us look to the ADA as our beacon of sound medicine and honest counsel. For those looking into at-home bleaching regimens, the ADA advises, “you may want to start by speaking with your dentist.”

You may … and then again, you may not. The tone here concedes that it hardly makes a difference who you ask, or whether the trusted person you do ask (a SoCal dentist, say) is hot to help you “explore” the whitening program of his or her choice.

Sometimes motives can be as murky as my gray-yellow teeth.

About the Writer

Matt Weston is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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