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Adventures in Tooth Whitening

Perhaps I'm just feeling my middle age, but -- even though I know better -- all those ads for tooth-whitening products are starting to work their magic on me. Recently, one came via e-mail, promising that my teeth could be made 7 shades whiter in 7 hours. Yikes: That sounded startling.

And yet I was intrigued: The ad featured Crest logos prominently and promised a free 14-day trial -- plus a Crest toothbrush, Crest toothpaste and Crest dental floss -- for just the cost of shipping, which turns out to be $4.99 (plus a dollar if you want to insure the package).

The product, called Luminous Brites, appeared to be a standard goop-in-trays arrangement, a whitening approach I favor because it keeps the active ingredient, carbamide peroxide (which turns into hydrogen peroxide when it mixes with water) in close contact with teeth for a long time, which is the key to successful whitening.

Thanks to my devotion to coffee, my teeth could use some spiffing up. This Luminous Brites stuff looked as good as anything I'd seen in the store. What did I have to lose?

That's when I put my journalist hat back on. A quick Google search turned up a Web site called Ripoff Report, I found a complaint apparently submitted the day before by someone named Kerri in Sheridan, Ark., who said that soon after she'd received her 14-day trial supply of Luminous Brites, her bank account had been charged $88.97 for a subsequent month's worth of the stuff that she hadn't ordered. Dissatisfaction ensued. ( A similar complaint dated the day before appears to have been posted by one Patricia of Hammond, La.; another's been filed since.)

Who knows if there's really a Kerri in Sheridan, Ark., or if her tale is true. But it sent me looking further. First, I checked the Luminous Brites ad's not-too-prominent "Terms and Conditions" link, which does say that unless a person who has ordered the trial kit proactively cancels her "Value Autoship Program" within 20 days of her purchase, her credit card will be automatically billed for the next month's supply. (It also says that the trial shipment won't be sent unless the purchaser checks the box saying she's read the Terms and Conditions.)

The small print also notes that "Crest is not associated with and does not endorse this product in any way." Funny, because the URL for one of Luminous Brite's Web sites is ""

And, oh, by the way: the ad also mentions, almost as an afterthought, that the product shown in the ad isn't the one you're getting: "Actual product is not pictured," it says.

I wanted to know whether the folks at Luminous Brites had heard of Kerri from Arkansas; maybe they'd like to share their side of the story. A call to the customer support line put me in touch with two fellows who made clear that they weren't authorized to speak on behalf of the company; two subsequent calls ended with my being put on hold and then disconnected. One of the men had suggested I e-mail the Glendale, Ca.-based company. I did. A week ago. And again on Friday. But but I haven't heard back.

Meanwhile, I called Crest. The p.r. person I spoke to hadn't heard of Luminous Brites or

So where does all that leave me? With a renewed sense of skepticism about buying stuff online. Even if a product or company looks legit at first, it's worth doing some homework and reading the fine print before giving anyone your credit card number. (FYI: to file a complaint about a purchase gone awry, go to the Federal Trade Commission's Web site. The site also offers lots of useful information about on-line shopping pitfalls and how to avoid them.)

So, have you bought products you've received e-mailed ads for? How has that turned out?

And, for a future blog, what tooth whitening products or procedures have you tried? How easy were they to use? And were you pleased with the results?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 27, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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I went for a tooth whitening ad I saw on line too. It was for "Celebrity Sexy Teeth" and promises 8 shades whiter, but in 14 days. I sent for the product, got it (no extra charges) and am using it. The first day I used it I was really surprised because there was immediately a noticeable difference. After that my teeth have continued to look better, but at a much slower rate. Still, I'm not dissatisfied. I'm only on about Day 5 at this point and the stuff is working.

Here's the url:

Posted by: zetousa | October 27, 2008 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I also have coffee stains (and I'm not giving up coffee!) on my teeth. I bought a very inexpensive tooth whitener at Walmart (don't remember the name, but they carry several). I use it about once a week and it does a very good job at lightening the stains. I didn't actually try for the "super bright" white the ads talk about, it just doesn't seem too healthy to keep putting tons of chemicals in your mouth.

Posted by: jjtwo | October 27, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

For a month at a time, I use Sensodyne extra whitening toothpaste and Listerine Tooth Defense (the purple colored liquid) mouth wash that has added flouride. Then I go back to regular listerine and regular colgate toothpaste for a month. I have noticed that it does help whiten my teeth. It is not a drastic difference but it is working. I plan on doing this for the next 6 months to see how it works out.

Posted by: Merdi | October 27, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"So, have you bought products you've received e-mailed ads for? How has that turned out?"

Are you kidding me? Who orders products from spammers? Now I know - apparently YOU do. If you people continue to feed them by clicking on the links in the spam and actually plunk down cash for their phony products, they will continue to spam us. Stop already.

Posted by: xian1 | October 27, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I've had the Zoom whitening treatment done by my dentist, and it works very well. I've also used TresWhite trays at home, and they work but the peroxide tends to burn the gums. For that reason I prefer the in-office treatment: the dentist starts by "painting" a protective resin onto your gums, then applies peroxide paste to your teeth and fits a light into your mouth to activate the paste. It takes about 20 minutes for subtle results, or an hour for more dramatic stain-removal.

Both of these options are more expensive than over-the-counter products - the Zoom treatment averages about $300 in my area, the TresWhite trays are about $60 online, more from the dentist - but they work very well. The TresWhite trays are flavored and actually don't taste half bad.

I would recommend that somebody with really yellow teeth see their dentist first for a thorough cleaning and professional in-chair whitening treatment, and then later use OTC products for maintenance.

Posted by: northgs | October 27, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I would imagine most items bought from spam mail won't live up to expectations. If you must buy, at least protect yourself by using a one-time use credit card number. Also, expect more spam.

Posted by: sarahabc | October 27, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

The $88.97 is right there in the terms & conditions-you have to be vigilant and question everything!

Posted by: jws3 | October 27, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Two years ago I paid about $300 for a whitening system from my dentist. The gel I use is called Sapphire. My teeth aren't terrible, but noticibly yellow, and I saw a huge improvement. THe dentist made plastic molds of my teeth. I put a gel inside and wear the tray overnight. When I first got it, I did it for I think two weeks straight. Now, whenever I feel like it, I just put it in overnight. I've had so many people comment on my teeth being so white. The initial $300 got me the trays to keep forever, plus the plaster molds to recast the plastic ones. I also got 6 "syringes" of gel. I must get about 5 uses out of each syringe (one use being top and bottom teeth). I still have two full syringes. It's defintiely worth the $300 because it's more than just a one-time, and the "refill" cost of the gel should be less.

Posted by: ml2152 | October 27, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I've tried the Crest whitening strips, but after a few days they make my teeth so sensitive I have to stop. Would love to hear if there are any other options for me.

Posted by: marybindc | October 27, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I went for the one-hour laser light zap, at $500. It lightened my teeth by 5 shades, based on their chart. I don't think it was really dramatic but I wasn't unhappy either. I find that when I use my SonicCare regularly, my teeth look brighter.

Posted by: chunche | October 27, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Not too many people have $500 or $300 dollars to spend on their teeth at the dentist. For that amount you should have come away TOTALLY satisfied with noticeably whiter teeth. I clicked on an ad while on that compared the various teeth whitening products. The ONLY one that worked and didn't cause any pain or pain in the wallet was You WON'T see results after one day as someone above mentioned but IT DOES WORK! After about 4 days I noticed that my teeth were alot whiter. Then I stopped using it for over a week to see if it would last. IT DID. They stayed white for a while but I noticed in pictures that my teeth were still yellowish so I'm about to resume using it. I think $60 is a bit much for a tooth whitener but it's a hell of alot less than $500 or even $300 from a dentist. Remember, your teeth will look as white as your mind tells you they are when you're looking in a mirror. The best way to tell if they are ACTUALLY whiter is be taking pictures. I plan to purchase Celebritysexyteeth again. Good luck with your choice.

Posted by: keedrow | October 27, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

With all of the money that toothpaste makers make, you would think that after all these years that one of them would put out a product that actually works, quickly and without pain. Those BS teeth whitening strips and whitening toothpaste are simply a ripoff. One day we all will be walking around with brite white teeth. They may be crooked and you may only have a few in your mouth but hey, they'll be white.

Posted by: keedrow | October 27, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I have used Crest Whitestrips for at least 4 years with wonderful success. I use them approximately once a year, the cost is down to about $35, and they are incredibly easy (a soft plastic film, far more comfortable than a tray, adheres to the teeth for 30 minutes). My teeth are beautifully white, despite my incurable coffee and red wine habits and the fact that I am 46 years old.

Posted by: Orsalia | October 27, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and one more thought re: Crest Whitestrips. I meant to clarify that I do NOT have naturally bright teeth. I have photos of myself when I was in my 20s, and my teeth were considerably less bright before I started using this product, even when I was much younger.

Posted by: Orsalia | October 27, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Hi there, my name is Ben and I am with Clear Smile Cosmetic Teeth Whitening. I would like to invite you to one of our locations where we offer our Teeth whitening service. We guarantee your teeth will be 2-5 shades whiter in 15 minutes!

Our procedure is quick, easy, and very effective. It is similar to what the dentists use except we use a Lower consentration of Hydrogyn peroxide and therefore customers experience little to no sensitivity.

We have a Clear Smile location at the Mall of America in Bloomington Minnesota, West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton Alberta, inside 10 MInute Manicure in the JFK international airport terminal 8, 10 Minute Manicure YYZ Toronto Airport Terminal 1, 10 Minute Manicure Ottawa International Airport and 10 Minute Manicure on 100 S. Biscayne BLVD Miami.

We hope you will stop by and Brighten your Smile the real way!

Posted by: BenClearSmile | October 27, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

are we being spammed in a post blog about spammers?

Posted by: mikenimzo | October 27, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

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