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Danger: Tooth whitening may cause caffeine withdrawal

Paul Dunn

Thursday, 6 a.m. I open my eyes, check the clock, and groan. “Oh, no. I couldn’t have done this,” I think. “This is gonna be hell …”

My teeth look like a railroad track after an earthquake.

They’re a nice shade of sunflower, too.

I summarized those impressions on a recent dental questionnaire that asked: “How do you feel about the appearance of your teeth?”

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“Hate ’em,” I responded.

This seemed to cause some consternation in my dental office, especially after I told the dentist I was going to pull out all my teeth with a pair of rusty pliers. (She threatened to “smack” me. That’s how I knew she and I would get along.)

As far as I can remember, my teeth never have been straight, though at some point they must have been white. Why they turned yellow is anybody’s guess, but I suppose my very strong cup of coffee every morning for 40 years has had something to do with it.

But the decay of my dental esteem really began in college.

I played volleyball for Santa Monica College back when I still could jump, and in a tournament one weekend, I rammed my mouth against my teammate’s head (I was evidently watching the ball, not him).

That embarrassing incident knocked loose one of my slightly protruding front teeth that only a year or so before had undergone a root canal. The dentist informed me at my post-head-butt exam that the tooth was attached to the gum only by the thinnest of root-canal material.

So he pulled it.

Until my teeth eventually adjusted and filled most of the gap, I looked eerily like Mad magazine’s fictional mascot Alfred E. Neuman. You can imagine how much of a chick magnet I was then …

“Hey, Margie: Check out the dude with the big gap between his teeth. See? The one with the big ears and freckles?”

“You mean the skinny guy drooling on his lemonade straw?”

“Uh-huh, that’s him. Isn’t he boss?”

“Oooh, yeah. He’s sexy.”

It was about then that my teeth began noticeably yellowing, which, of course, only added to my movie-star appeal. But now, some 30 years later, I’m doing something about it.

I’m whitening my teeth.

Every night after I drift off, itty-bitty magic tooth fairies invade my mouth (through my nostrils) and recite incantations to brighten my teeth. Sometimes they tickle me with their wings and I wake up, but most of the time I just hear them sing in my dreams:

“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two fronnnnt teeeeeth …” (They think they’re cute.)

Sometimes they get mixed up and leave a quarter under my pillow. They evidently think that still-visible gap in the front of my mouth is a tooth I just lost.

Actually, every night before bed I squirt gooey stuff into upper and lower soft-plastic mouthpieces and place them over my teeth. As I understand it, my teeth absorb the ointment, which then engages the Army of Yellow Stains.

After about a week of fighting, the Gooey Brigade seems to be winning. My dentist noticed about two shades difference in my latest checkup Wednesday.

But here’s the rub: For an hour or so in the morning after treatment, teeth aggressively absorb the color of the liquid you drink. So unless you want your whitening teeth to assume a deep-brown coffee color, you must wait an hour before drinking.

I’ve managed to dodge the torture this past week by inadvertently waking about an hour before my alarm, withdrawing the mouthpieces, rinsing my mouth and returning to bed. When the alarm rings, my teeth and I are ready to drink.

But not Thursday.

That morning, I slept until the alarm woke me at 6 a.m., which meant no coffee until at least 7 a.m.

I figured I’d die before then.

I’d estimated that by about 6:50 a.m., a shimmering white light would enshroud me as I floated above my slumping body.

Nope. By then, I still was slouched on the couch, ticking off the minutes until 6:59.57, when I raced into the kitchen, filled my cup, flung it into the microwave and paced the final 11Ú2 minutes.

Talk about a creature of habit …

– Paul Dunn is editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at (530) 542-8047 and pdunn@tahoedailytribune.com.


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