Prepare Your Smile to Look It’s Best. Here’s How
There are many times in your life when you want your smile to be at its absolute best — and maybe you even want it to work a little harder for you. According to a recent psychology study at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, smiling can increase positive behaviors, instill confidence, and even make you appear more youthful and attractive, according to a recent Berlin-based study at the Max Planck Institute. So whether you’re going on a first date, scheduling a job interview, planning your wedding, or attending a graduation or reunion, it’s time to start thinking about how you can make the most of your smile.
There isn’t always a lot of lead time when it comes to preparing for a first date or interview, so in this case, the biggest bang for your buck is bleaching, and you have two options. You can schedule an appointment with your dentist for professional, in-office teeth whitening, or get an over-the-counter whitening productand do it yourself.
Teeth Whitening in a Pinch
If you can get a last-minute appointment with your dentist, the professional bleaching that she provides will be a quicker (and more impressive) fix than what you’ll achieve with drugstore whitening kits — though it will be considerably more expensive. An in-office whitening session may set you back anywhere from $500-1,000, while an over-the-counter treatment costs between $20-100. But if you have the time and the budget, getting your teeth whitened by a professional is both faster and more effective than doing it yourself, according to Donna Zak, DDS, of Zak and Frankel Dental Associates in New York City.
The concentration of whitening ingredients used in the dental-office product is much higher (about 15 to 35 percent hydrogen peroxide) than the amount in the products you can buy at your local drugstore (about 3 to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide). During your office treatment, your dentist will apply a whitening gel to your teeth and may activate the bleaching process with a laser technology that is thought to penetrate teeth and create a deeper whitening effect (known as power bleaching). Typically this process only takes one hour and can yield drastic results.
But if you can’t score an appointment with your dentist — or your budget simply won’t allow it — “go ahead and get an over-the-counter product and bleach your teeth a week or a few days before,” says Dr. Zak. She recommends Crest Whitestrips or Aquafresh White Trays. “Whitening toothpastes can also help,” says Gregg Lituchy, DDS, of Lowenberg & Lituchy in New York City.
“But they really only remove the external stains on the tooth surface, whereas whitening strips penetrate the deeper tooth layers to actually bleach the teeth.” When used together, Dr. Lituchy suggests that teeth whitening strips with whitening toothpaste is a good combo for making teeth appear whiter.
In a real pinch, the easiest way to achieve a whiter smile is to try a new makeup routine. Both Zak and Lituchy agree that wearing a shade of lipstick with a blue undertone is a good trick to make your smile look instantly brighter. Darkening your skin tone with a bronzer, says Lituchy, will also help create a greater contrast to the teeth and make them appear whiter. Additionally, he suggests avoiding any food or drinks that are likely to darken the teeth before the big event, so avoid coffee, black tea, red wine, and dark-colored berries — and don’t smoke! Tobacco is one of the worst teeth-staining offenders.
A Serious Smile Makeover
Million-dollar smiles are no longer just for the rich and famous — and they’re not as costly as they used to be either. More and more everyday people are getting their teeth professionally bleached, straightened, and even replaced with long, straight rows of porcelain veneers. And if you’re getting ready for a longer-term event like wedding, graduation, or reunion, you can take advantage of these more time-intensive procedures.
With extra time to prepare for a special event, patients have the opportunity to visit the dentist for multiple teeth whitening treatments and can achieve more impressive results than from just a one-time session. Echoing Zak’s assessment, Brian Kantor, DDS, of Lowenberg & Lituchy, says that patients can maintain and boost the bleaching process by getting custom-made bleaching trays to take home with them. Your dentist will take dental impressions to produce the trays that will fit comfortably and help the bleach sit against the teeth better than a generic OTC product. Because they are custom fit for your mouth, they also prevent the whitening agent from irritating the gums. “The in-office whitening combined with the prolonged use of the take-home trays will give the best possible results from bleaching,” Dr. Kantor says. These custom trays may also be available for patients who opt out of the in-office procedure and only wish to whiten at home with a professionally-dispensed product.
But color may not be the only obstacle in your way of a great, white smile. As you age, the wear-and-tear on your teeth is reflected in your smile. Before your big event, you may want enhance your smile — and your overall oral health — with a complete smile renovation. Replace old fillings, fix an improper bite, straighten crooked teeth that have shifted over the years, and repair any cracks or chips.
“If you are looking to do dentistry on your teeth to change them, such as crowns or veneers, I would start at least six months before the big day,” says Zak. In addition to factoring in your dentist’s availability and the dental lab’s schedule, the exact amount of time depends on how many veneers would be needed. For example, replacing only the upper front teeth with veneers could take about a month. However, if the work is more extensive and includes the back teeth, then Zak says it could take between six months and a year. Veneers are a great choice for a smile makeover for those deemed candidates by their dentist and who have the time and budget (porcelain veneers can cost $1,000 to $2,500 per tooth). “Not only can they straighten the teeth,” says Kantor, “they can also improve the color and shape of the teeth.”
To create your ideal smile, make a consultation appointment with your regular dentist or consider seeking out a dentist who specializes in smile enhancement. Share your concerns about your teeth and your goals for your new smile. Since beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, photos and images from magazines can be helpful when you try to convey what you consider attractive. Your dentist will then discuss your treatment options and get you on track with a plan that fits the timeline leading up to your special event.