I don’t know when it began exactly, but there came a point around my late teens where I began noticing my teeth were starting to turn yellow.
As I got older it got progressively worse – which felt terribly unfair considering I don’t smoke and I don’t drink red wine.
By my early thirties my teeth were the first thing I noticed in all photos. I practised smiling with my lips clamped shut. I started buying expensive toothpastes which promised to whiten my teeth in a matter of weeks. They didn’t.
Most recently a set of photos of me and some friends on New Year’s Eve began circulating on Facebook. It was a great night and the pictures were testament to that. And in every single one, my teeth were the colour of cheddar cheese.
Add this to a somewhat sexist survey by a dating agency which recently revealed the most important thing men notice in women is their teeth, I finally decide I’ve had enough.
With my self confidence in tatters, I bite the proverbial bullet and make an appointment with Harley Street dentist Dr Jonathan Hall to talk about my options.
During my first consultation he takes pictures of my teeth and in the moments that I’m waiting for the image to flash up on his computer screen I feel so ashamed I'm pretty close to tears.
Scroll down for before/ after images from Dr Hall's dentistry
So when Dr Hall informs me I am an ideal candidate for tooth whitening the tears still want to come, but now they’re joyful.
Dr Hall opts to treat me via the home whitening system and takes a mould of my teeth and gums using dental alginate. The impressions are sent off to a clinic and return in plaster form, from which trays made from plastic polymer are created.
The trays fit over my teeth, leaving room for whitening solution to be inserted and are to be worn for between four and six hours a night as I sleep.
The ZOOM! whitening solution itself comes in syringes which must be kept refrigerated. Each night after brushing my teeth, I squeeze a pea-sized amount into each tooth impression and fit them over my teeth.
Wearing the guards is not painful. Nor is sleeping in them. In fact I feel a bit like a boxer. A boxer with a lisp.
The solution itself consists of 6% of hydrogen peroxide – which is the current legal amount – as set by a change in the law in October 2012. The same legislation ensured the procedure changed from a cosmetic to a health directive in the European Union.
Previously to this, the market was home to some tooth whitening products containing up 25% of hydrogen peroxide.
While Dr Hall informs me there was no evidence those levels were harmful, the dental regulatory body saw it as necessary to set a percentage to take the treatment away from what he terms “a grey market in tooth whitening.”
He adds: “I consider the provision of tooth whitening to be a dental procedure. A beautician offering tooth whitening is not working in the realm of dentistry”.
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Literature from the dental regulatory body states: “The new law draws a clear line between the products that can legally be used for tooth whitening by dentists or under their direct supervision and the products that can be purchased by non-dental professionals.”
In some rare circumstances the percentage can be exceeded, but dentists are recommended to proceed cautiously and consider the “ethical dilemma” in diverting from the guidance should a complaint arise.
Dr Hall tells me: “There is no evidence that using more than 6% is unsafe or likely to cause problems, but in the majority of cases there is no point in using a higher percentage.
“You would not want to risk your reputation and besides, 6% of hydrogen peroxide will get you very white teeth. It will take longer than a lunch hour, but there’s more of a guarantee under these regulations.”
Having been fitted with my trays, I’m sent away for ten days to wear my guards.
I have to avoid certain foods that will potentially stain my teeth during this period. As I said, I don’t smoke and nor do I drink red wine, so the only hardship really is coffee – but it feels like ten days without the stuff can only be a good thing.
I start noticing a difference almost immediately. I have a little chart I hold up to my teeth to monitor the changes and by the end of the ten days I am beaming like a maniac.
I am overjoyed, and even more so when Dr Hall takes a series of “after” photographs to compare to the earlier snaps.
During my last session I tell Dr Hall people have been commenting on how good my teeth are looking, but point out how peculiar is is that none of them seem to remember how yellow they used to be.
He laughs and tells me: “People have short memories.”
They may well do, but I’ll never forget the years of shame I experienced. This procedure has changed my life and lifted my self confidence up off the ground.
Sara Nelson had a course of tooth whitening at One Harley Street costing £400.