Irvine resident Adriana Molina was on her way to work when she heard a disc jockey hype a new cosmetic dentistry center called BriteSmile Inc. that promises to deliver bright smiles in just an hour.
Molina, who had long been embarrassed about her stained teeth, was enticed by the DJ’s promise, but didn’t run to make an appointment.
However, a few weeks later when she spotted a BriteSmile office while strolling through the University Towne Centre mall, she didn’t hesitate to go inside.
Molina isn’t the only one to recently visit the posh office. Some 600 clients have walked through the doors of UTC’s BriteSmile since it opened 2 & #733; months ago, paying $500 to have their teeth whitened. The treatment takes from one to two hours, said the center’s dentist, Cyrus Tahmasebi.
The Walnut Creek-headquartered firm said it has seen tremendous success with an ambitious $20 million advertising campaign , half of which goes into radio advertising.
For San Diego, BriteSmile has set aside $1 million for advertising in newspapers and radio spots. Not surprisingly, disc jockeys and talk show hosts at five local radio stations have been offering testimonials about their experiences at BriteSmile since August.
“Radio personalities have loyal listeners , for them the radio personalities are friends they trust, ” said Cheryl Lester, BriteSmile’s vice president of marketing.
The spots run on KFMB-AM, KYXY-FM, KGB-FM, KOGO-AM and KIOZ-FM during early morning and afternoon drive times, Lester said.
Molina said she was impressed with BriteSmile’s smart d & #233;cor and fast service. After a cursory exam to make sure Molina’s teeth and gums are healthy, Tahmasebi smeared a protective solution on Molina’s gums and teeth.
He then applied a hydrogen peroxide gel and activated the whitening process with an intense blue light, called a gas plasma light.
An hour and 30 minutes later, Molina left with her teeth looking a lot brighter.
Joe Carrick, the former president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, estimates 2 to 3 million people got their teeth whitened in 1998-99. In 2000, he predicts, that number will double.
“It’s a $600 million industry with a growth tendency,” said Carrick, whose dental office is in San Carlos.
BriteSmile banks on it. The company is opening new centers across the country. In California, where graceful aging is frowned upon and cosmetic enhancements are hip, BriteSmile operates centers in Beverly Hills, Irvine, Pasadena, Walnut Creek and La Jolla.
A $15 million injection from a recent private stock offering will fund the opening of 14 additional centers by the end of March.
Some critics, however, remain skeptical whether consumers will flock to BriteSmile centers.
Dr. James Hoag, a Coronado dentist who was recruited by BriteSmile to test its equipment on his own patients finds less costly whitening techniques produce similar results.
One technique he mentions involves custom-fitted bleaching trays containing a layer of the hydrogen peroxide gel which patients wear for a few hours everyday for about a week.
Hoag charges $350 for the entire treatment, including trays, bleaching material and follow-up visits. Patients usually wear the trays over-night for seven days to get their teeth sparkling.
However, he points out, “The BriteSmile treatment is more convenient, because patients don’t have to wear a bleaching tray and there’s less chair time involved.”
Penelope Wrenn, 28, a Coronado lawyer, said she wore her trays only during the day, because they interrupted her sleep.
Wrenn hadn’t heard of BriteSmile and “doesn’t listen to commercials for health.”
“I prefer to get word-of-mouth referrals,” she said.
While both treatments , using the trays or gas-plasma light , are safe, Hoag cautions that patients with tetracyline-stained teeth may not see expected results and others with sensitive teeth could experience some pain.
Carrick said that teeth that are yellow and brown generally whiten more than those with a gray and bluish tint.
Whitening treatments generally keep teeth shining for about one to three years and are not covered by insurance.
Both dentists have found that the over-the-counter whitening treatments don’t live up to the custom trays, blue light or a third alternative , laser treatments that can cost up to $2,000.
Carrick also pointed out that the whitening kits sold in drug stores can cause sore gum tissue. Whitening toothpastes, in turn, polish teeth but can’t give the sparkling effect of a professional whitening treatment, he said. Used with a hard brush, whitening tooth pastes can be abrasive over time, he added.
‘It’s a $600 million industry with a growth tendency.’
Joe Carrick, former president
American Academy of Cosmetic D