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Plastic strips offer tooth-bleaching alternative (10-12-00)

Vanessa Ruiz, 14, a freshman at Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, applied two plastic strips to her teeth, the first one to her upper teeth and the second one to her lower. The strips, coated with a gel of 5 percent to 6 percent hydrogen peroxide, promise to give Vanessa an even brighter smile.

The cheerleading and swimming aficionado had just joined a study, conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), to test the safety and efficacy of a new product that promises to whiten teeth within a month. “Appearance to me is a big deal,” Vanessa said. “Having white teeth is a very big part of it. This is a very easy thing to do.”

Teeth whitening strips will hit the market within six months. The Pediatric Dentistry Clinic at UTHSC’s Dental School is the only site that enrolled patients for a pediatric clinical study of the strips; similar adult studies are wrapping up at The University of the Pacific in San Francisco, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Tufts University in Boston. Kevin J. Donly, D.D.S., professor of pediatric dentistry, is the local principal investigator.

Thanks to volunteers such as Vanessa, enrollment for the pediatric study was completed in short order.

The strips, which are the same consistency as plastic wrap used to cover food, are placed on the upper and lower teeth for 30 minutes after breakfast and again at bedtime. Participants’ teeth whiten about two shades and maximum results can be seen in four weeks, Dr. Donly said. Applying the strips once a month helps maintain the new look. The strips are designed to cover only the middle six teeth of the smile.

Another method of tooth whitening reaches all the teeth but requires more effort. In this method, dentists make clear, plastic molds of the patient’s upper and lower bites. The patient is given a syringe of gel to squirt into each tooth in the mold. The dentists advise the patients to wear the upper and lower impressions over their teeth overnight after squirting tiny drops of the gel into each tooth compartment.

In the new alternative, the gel is already part of the strips. The clear, plastic strip is stretched over the six teeth and wrapped behind the lower edge. “This is a very safe and easy way to get your teeth whiter,” Dr. Donly said. “The gel dissipates after 30 minutes and there is no harm with minimal ingestion of it. The strips are safe on the tooth enamel. The only thing to be careful about is if you have a crown, because crowns will not whiten like natural teeth.”

The product, which is already available at dentists’ offices, will cost $44 for a two-week supply once it hits the market, he said.

“We know that less than 5 percent of the population seeks tooth whitening from dentists,” Dr. Donly said. “But 95 percent of people who are asked would like to have whiter teeth. More than half of the toothpastes sold today have an advertised whitening component to them, but the whitening potential is not comparable to bleaching agents such as these strips.”

Contact: Will Sansom