YOUR BODY : Dental Group Frowns on Tooth Whitener

EpiSmile, a new whitening toothpaste, promises “a designer smile.” Touted in full color advertisements as a breakthrough, the $12 tubes are selling like crazy at cosmetic counters all over the Southland.

In Glendale, Robinson’s, which has been stocking it for two months, sells 30 tubes a day. No one balks at the price or the unpleasant taste. One model, shopping at Bullocks Wilshire, told saleswoman Patricia Hazeltine, “I gag on the taste but I keep on using it.”

Here’s how it works. The active ingredient is calcium peroxide. This oxygenating agent bleaches off the thin protein film constantly reformed on teeth that attracts stains and bacteria. “We’re getting terrific results,” says Roger Lewis, a Beverly Hills dentist specializing in cosmetic dentistry who recommends it for some patients with discolored teeth.

But the American Dental Assn. isn’t biting. After more than 300 calls, the organization has issued a “statement of concern.” It fears that EpiSmile, along with three other whitening products, could cause irritation to gums and other soft tissues in the mouth. So the Chicago-based group has asked the Food and Drug Administration to investigate whether these designer toothpastes should be sold as drugs rather than cosmetics. An FDA spokeswoman says the agency is investigating the matter.


“We don’t know very much about the safety and effectiveness of these products,” cautions dentist Kenneth Burrell, the secretary to the ADA’s Council on Dental Therapeutics.

“We’ve inundated them with information,” counters Irwin Smigel, the New York dentist who developed EpiSmile. With some exasperation in his voice, he adds that EpiSmile is exactly the same formula as Super Smile, another tooth whitener he began marketing in 1985. (When the Beverly Hills-based EPI bought Smigel’s product last year, they changed the name.)

“I’ve never had a complaint,” Smigel says. “EpiSmile is healthier to the gums than any other toothpaste on the market.”

Howard Kerr, a spokesman for Omni International, which introduced White and Brite last March, also questions the ADA’s stand. “Our product has been clinically tested for three years,” says Kerr about White and Brite, which is sold exclusively to dentists. “It doesn’t cause any irritation.”


So what’s a dingy toothed consumer to do:

Hold off buying the new toothpastes, suggests Alfred Weinstock, a UCLA professor of periodontics. “I don’t recommend these special whitening toothpastes because there’s not enough scientific information about gum damage.”

But Beverly Hills dentist Lewis thinks they’re safe. The active ingredient in all four products, Lewis says, is also used in bread making. (True, but only as an incidental additive, says a bread company representative.)

“If we outlaw EpiSmile,” Lewis asks, “will white bread be next?”

Cutting Out Fad Diets

Even though diet books still dot the New York Times Best Sellers’ List, the number of dieting Americans is shrinking. According to a survey just released by the Calorie Control Council, a trade organization of diet food manufacturers, only 48 million people, or one in four Americans, are on a diet.

In 1986, a similar survey found 65 million dieters, or one in three Americans. That’s a 26% decline.

Actually, the shrinking numbers is good news. Instead of using fad diets, Americans are now relying more on low-calorie and low-fat nutrition to take and keep off pounds. For instance, the survey found that 4% of the dieters took diet pills and only 12% used crash diets.


For more information on good nutrition, California Dietetic Assn. has established a new nutritionist referral service. Believed to be the first in the nation, the Registered Dietitian Referral Service will guide consumers to qualified nutritionists in their area. Consumers can call (213) 821-7348 or (800) 234-7348. The service operates from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays.