Tackling years of coffee stain

I have to confess to being a big-time coffee drinker. I started out much younger than I should have, and I indulged far more often than was probably good for me. I’ve found living in Vietnam – where more coffee is produced than anywhere else on the planet – to be one permanent caffeine buzz, and I don’t go a day without a visit or five to the coffee pot.

The casualty has been my teeth. You can’t down that much coffee without your tooth enamel taking on an unpleasant shift to the yellow spectrum – and the frustrating thing is, it doesn’t brush off. No amount of toothpaste will remove the microscopic grinds from those tiny cracks and ridges, and the acidity in the coffee itself can contribute to a gradual wearing away of the bright outer layer, allowing the lemon-colored dentin underneath to shine unpleasantly through.

The upside to ruining my smile in Vietnam is that I’m ideally located to fix the problem. High-quality, international-standard dental care is quite affordable here, and superior teeth-whitening procedures can cost around a third of what a clinic would charge overseas for the same thing. I found that in Ho Chi Minh City I could restore my teeth back to their teenage hue at a reputable dentist’s without seriously affecting my café latte budget, and so I went ahead and booked a procedure.

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There are a good number of methods for achieving whiter teeth, most of which require multiple treatments and religious maintenance regimes. At Dr. Do Dinh Hung’s HD Dental Center (www.drhung01.com) – recently relocated to palatial new premises on Cong Quynh – the most effective (and certainly the fastest) procedure available is the Brite Smile teeth bleaching system, which takes about two hours and allows you to leave the clinic with a significantly pearlier grin than you had when you arrived.

While soaking your teeth in hydrogen peroxide may sound a tad extreme, the process is actually fairly gentle and optimized to reduce any discomfort. My dentist, Dr. Tuan Anh, gave my teeth a thorough visual once-over first to ensure there weren’t any undiscovered cavities that shouldn’t come into contact with the bleaching agent, and then gave me an initial polish to fully expose the surface of my teeth. I was laid back, fitted with a mouthpiece, and then the real work began.

The procedure was conducted in three parts, each 20 minutes in duration. My gums and lips were applied with a protective jelly, and then the hydrogen peroxide gel was smeared all over the surfaces of my teeth where the espresso had done its damage. As with most dental gels and pastes nowadays, the taste was light and pleasant – faintly minty.

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Dr. Do Dinh Hung

What I hadn’t expected was that for most of the procedure I’d be lying undisturbed while a specially-designed blue-light lamp – looking not unlike a miniature sunbed – was positioned in front of my mouth to activate the gel and accelerate the oxidation process that would be removing the stain. Most people don’t exactly look forward to visits to the dentist, but in this case, lying there with my protective goggles on and the warm blue light shining on my teeth, the experience was mercifully comfortable. My only regret was that I didn’t bring any entertainment along with me – an hour can seem a long time, even if it is broken up periodically by the dentist coming over to swab the gel off, carrying with it the stain of cappuccinos past. If you’re thinking of having your teeth whitened, my best advice is to make sure you take a pair of headphones along with you: without the benefit of music, I just let myself drift off to sleep.

Sixty minutes later, the difference was obvious. Dr. Tuan Anh showed me a rack of artificial teeth dyed with the different enamel colors that occur in patients – according to the grading method, I’d moved from a slightly muddied A3 right up to a healthy A1 – about the lightest shade that teeth can be without looking artificial.

I can’t say that the procedure was unpleasant, although I did experience some mild pangs of sensitivity here and there during the bleaching process and for a short while afterwards. Patients are each presented with a tube of a rather tasty ointment to alleviate this problem. In fact, the only major issue I had was with the post-treatment care leaflet I was handed as I left, which explained that until the ‘protein pellicle layer’ over my tooth enamel reformed – a process that takes about a day – my teeth would be particularly sensitive to restaining. For 24 hours I needed to avoid eating or drinking anything that might discolor them again, including – drumroll – coffee.

Images by Ngoc Tran