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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.

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"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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