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It's the tooth! The cost of dental care
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For its similar benefits, Pollowitz is favorable toward "the good, quality antibacterial mouthwashes, such as Listerine" when used in conjunction with other dental aids.

"Unfortunately," he adds, too many people use the mouthwash "instead of flossing and instead of brushing as long as they should."

Teeth whitening
Basically, there are three kinds of teeth-bleaching options: professionally done in-office; done at-home, but dentist-dispensed and over-the-counter preparations.

In-office is priciest, roughly costing $300 to $1,000. But as Blumenthal points out, "The dentist can give you a much bigger bang for the buck."

What determines how dramatic the results? The strength of the peroxide solution used (strongest in-office) and the length of time it stays on the teeth (far less time is generally needed in-office, because of the increased efficacy of the preparation).

Dentist-dispensed at-home regimens cost less -- approximately $300 to $500-plus -- but will generally take longer and lack the doctor's watchful eye during the proceedings.

Over-the-counter options are by far the cheapest (some brands less than $20), but will generally give the least-dramatic results -- and it's probably just you, the box and a toll-free help line.

Even so, the do-it-yourself whiteners -- whether strips, liquids or gels -- are enormously popular.

Crest Whitestrips, launched in 2001, with $200 million in revenue after just one year, continue to enjoy tremendous word-of-mouth and brisk sales.

What is the ADA's take on this blizzard of whiting out? For the record: "The ADA recommends that if you choose to use a bleaching product you should only do so after consultation with a dentist."

By the way, don't be too certain that most dentists will advise in favor of their offerings and against the cheaper store-bought products.

"I tell patients to try Crest Whitestrips first, and see if it works for them," says Saland, who offers one of the dentist-dispensed at-home bleaching systems. "If it does, there's a difference of $300."

Whatever method you choose, among the factors you should be aware of is that such dental work as crowns and fillings do not bleach; staining you already have may be problematic and that sensitivity, which should be only temporary, may result.

A final thought: If you've done all due diligence, in terms of oral care, and you still have dental problems, don't beat yourself up for it: Genetics also play a role in whether you have "good" teeth or "bad" teeth.

As Saland puts it: "Choose your parents well!"

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Nov. 29, 2005
More stories by Laura Shanahan
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