The lure of white teeth

SINGAPORE - The appeal of a sparkling white smile is proving to be increasingly irresistible.

A growing number of people are choosing to have their teeth whitened, with some dentists observing a doubling in the demand for such services in the last five years.

Factors driving this trend are greater awareness, availability of teeth-whitening facilities, vanity and the procedure's relative affordability.

Members of the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) have seen an estimated doubling of the number of patients inquiring about teeth whitening. These days, six in 10 patients ask about teeth whitening, compared with three to four out of 10 patients five years ago, said vice-president Chye Chuan Hee.

Aesthetic Dentistry Society of Singapore president Gerald Tan, who practises at TP Dental Surgeons, said about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the patients there opt for teeth whitening compared with about 10 per cent of patients five years ago.

GPA Dental Group, which has four clinics, has noticed about a 50 per cent increase in the last five years, said its managing director, Dr Wilson Goh.

"Basically, more people want to look good," said Dr Chin Shou King of T32 Dental Centre. Increased awareness and affluence have added to the trend.

The perception of what constitutes a beautiful and healthy smile has also changed to encompass more than just straight or non-decayed teeth, said Dr Edgar Kieu of Raffles Dental.

Both men and women are getting their teeth whitened, whether it is in preparation for a wedding or job interview, graduation photos, or even to improve their chances of finding a life partner, said Dr Tan.

At some clinics, dentists have slightly more female patients requesting the service.

Patients range from those in their early 20s to those in their 60s. Dr Kevin Co of Rochor Dental Clinic has also observed more patients aged 40 years and above.

There are various causes of teeth discolouration. Ageing itself causes the enamel to be worn away, revealing the natural colour of dentine - a yellowish inner layer of the teeth. Lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking coffee, tea or cola-based drinks can cause stains too.

Dentists use two teeth-whitening methods - one is carried out at home and the other in clinics.

A take-home kit consists of a customised bleaching tray for the upper and lower sets of teeth. Patients apply a whitening gel onto the tray. This is worn over the teeth for one or two hours daily for about two weeks.

Costing between $300 and $1,200, this is a cheaper but arguably less effective method. It is recommended for those with healthy teeth and gums but who want to enhance the whiteness of their teeth, said Dr Tan.

The method administered by a dentist makes use of a stronger whitening agent that is applied onto the teeth. A special LED light speeds up the whitening chemical reaction, which takes about an hour. The procedure costs about $850 to $1,500.

The SDA's Dr Chye said that although the effect can last a long time, it is not permanent and depends largely on a person's oral hygiene and dietary habits.

Patients who undergo in-clinic whitening are usually advised to get a take-home kit for maintenance, said Dr Chin.

Mr Kenneth Loh, 33, had his teeth whitened at the T32 clinic in the middle of last year. His teeth, however, are no longer as white as they were after the procedure as he continues to drink tea about three to four times a day.

Mr Loh, whose work in real estate requires him to meet people regularly, decided to have his teeth whitened as they were becoming more yellowish.

He found the process relatively inexpensive, safe and convenient.

"The teeth are a very important asset and cannot be replaced easily. I felt more confident after the treatment. It made my teeth about two to three times whiter than before, without looking too unnatural," he said.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.