October 10, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 35

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Plastic strips contribute to whiter teeth, offer bleaching alternative

Vanessa Ruiz, 14, a freshman at Incarnate Word High School, 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 Dental Schoolís Pediatric Dentistry Clinic, 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 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 Pacificís San Francisco campus, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Tufts University in Boston. Dr. Kevin Donly, professor of pediatric dentistry, is the local principal investigator.

Thanks to volunteers like 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. Participantsí 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.


Dr. Kevin Donly, pediatric dentistry, shows Vanessa Ruiz the whitening strips on her teeth recently in the pediatric dentistry clinic. (Photo by Fernando Serna)

Another method of tooth whitening reaches all the teeth but requires more effort. In this method, dentists make clear, plastic molds, or trays, of the patientís upper and lower bites. The patient is given a syringe of gel to squirt into each tooth in the tray.

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 dentistsí 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."

óWill Sansom