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Dressed to the Teeth : A New Toothpaste Takes a Cosmetic Approach to Dental Care

NEW PRODUCT will soon sit among the eye shadows and lipsticks on cosmetics counters: toothpaste. One of the beauty industry’s most unusual new developments is a dentifrice that will be sold as a prestige cosmetic. For people who lament yellow teeth, a $12 paste promising whiteness may be something to smile about.

This isn’t the first time that whiteners have been mass-marketed. Others include Topol, once called “the smoker’s toothpaste” because it contains hydrated silicas and zirconium silicate, which have some effect against nicotine stains, and Pearl Drops, an abrasive lotion to be used after brushing. But neither has been promoted as a department-store beauty product.

EpiSmile, developed by a New York City dentist named Irwin Smigel, is the toothpaste / whitener that will soon be appearing in ads that liken brushing to applying makeup, “implying that this is the first cosmetic toothpaste because it whitens teeth just as lipstick reddens the lips,” Smigel says.

The new product, distributed by the makers of the EpiLady hair-removal system, is said to “inhibit plaque formation” without being overly abrasive, Smigel says. (In the past, some dentists have warned patients against abrasive polishers because of potential damage to the enamel.) Smigel, who developed tooth-bonding techniques in the 1970s, says his toothpaste includes calcium peroxide, a mild bleaching agent that removes from the teeth an invisible protein coating that attracts stains.

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“Many people think their teeth are naturally yellow, when, in fact, they are stained and can be whitened significantly,” Smigel says. He says that tooth-whitening products can remove only stains that are formed on the surface of the teeth, such as those caused by food, smoking, alcohol, tea or coffee. “Tooth whiteners are not effective on intrinsic stains--that is, stains that you were born with or those resulting from tetracycline,” he says.

There are other new spins on dental care: Pro-Bright is a battery-operated polisher. An ad for the device, running in the San Francisco-based Fortune’s catalogue, claims that home polishing will leave the mouth “feeling as bright as it does after a trip to the dentist.” A potential problem is over-polishing. Pro-Bright is recommended for use only every week or two.

Not everyone agrees that white teeth are worth striving for, however. Lars Christersson, clinical director of the Periodontal Disease Research Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo, maintains that perfectly white teeth are structurally not as strong as naturally yellowish teeth. A high concentration of dentin, the hard tissue forming the body of a tooth, causes the slight yellow cast, he explains. But, Smigel says: “Those who want the whiteness will gladly use a ‘cosmetic’ for the teeth.”


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