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Are Teeth Whitening Kits Safe?

People want that great smile, and it's easy to get one. You can find bleaching kits in plenty of stores and on the Internet. Prices are cheap, too.

But a growing number of people are overusing these products and paying a painful price. The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reports on an important warning.

From TV commercials to magazines ads, getting a million-dollar smile has become a billion-dollar business.

An ad promises, "A unique organic formula eliminates stains - revealing beautiful white teeth!"

But as more and more people strip, paint, and gel their way to pearly white teeth, some are seeing a dark side of the bleaching craze.

Neikie Reno, who used teeth whiteners, says, "I knew that I wanted a great smile and I would go to extremes to get it."

Reno was so obsessed, she tried product after product, thinking the more she used them, the whiter her teeth would be.

"I didn't read the directions," Reno admits, "I didn't follow the directions."

That was a big mistake.

After months of daily use, instead of whiter teeth, this is what she got: irritated, inflamed gums, splotchy dark spots, and painful sensitivity. Her teeth even began to chip.

Reno says, "If ice was in my cup, I had to drink with a straw so the cold fluid would not touch my teeth."

Dr. Larry Rosenthal, a top New York cosmetic dentist, says he sees patients like Reno all the time.

"I use the term 'bleaching junkies,'" he says.

They are teeth-whitening abusers who don't realize how powerful the peroxide in these products may be.

Dr. Rosenthal says, "If you took some peroxide and let it sit on your skin for a while and then washed it off, it wouldn't be a problem. If you put it on a minute, you'd see a white patch. If you put on for an hour, you'd start to see a little hole. Same thing happens with your gums and teeth."

While manufacturers say these products are safe if used properly, little research has been done on the effects of overuse. Experts also warn, bleaching teeth without proper supervision could make serious dental problems even worse.

Dr. Rosenthal says, "One or two teeth that are excessively dark, that could mean a nerve died in that tooth. The dentist should diagnose that before you bleach; the bleaching won't help; it'll make the tooth even more brittle."

Dr. Rosenthal says Reno had weak enamel to begin with and that made her a bad candidate for bleaching. In the end, she had to get porcelain veneers to achieve her dream smile, and cover up the years of damage that over-bleaching had done.

Reno says, "I would definitely tell people to be careful, read the directions, follow the directions. You don't realize it's doing damage."

The key here: Read the directions and follow them. If you are having pain, stop using the product. And call your dentist.

Teeth can actually become see-through and turn almost blue, if you over-bleach.

And these products do not work for everyone. Some people will find their teeth will stay dark, no matter how much they bleach. Overusing the products won't make these teeth any whiter. Again, see your dentist before bleaching your teeth.

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