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Published November 07 2010

Swift: ‘Lustre’ for life fleeting

When I was a kid, few things delighted me like the sight of the Miles Kimball catalog in the mail.

This catalog’s spirited mix of gimmicky household products and gag gifts were like precious gems to a fifth-grade girl. How could the Swift household run without a handy toothpaste tube squeezer? Wouldn’t toilet paper printed with slightly naughty cartoons be hilarious? And surely I would become a financial genius if I owned a piggy bank with a mechanical hand that reached out to grab my pennies.

Now that I’m all grown up, nothing has really changed. I still enjoy the promise of a new labor-saving device or beauty product. I am a fairly intelligent human being, yet I willingly choose to believe that a slickly demonstrated, cheaply made product really will make perfect brownies, take years off my neckline and forever eliminate pet hair on the sofa.

Which explains how I found myself in a checkout at Walgreens, clutching a Lustre At Home Tooth Whitening Light System. It only cost $29.99, yet it seemed so much fancier and more entertaining than those boring whitening trays or press-on strips. It even included an ultraviolet light, “similar to professional whitening light technology.” And it promised to lighten my teeth “up to six shades” in one hour.

I would never achieve the glow-in-the-dark grin of a Bret Michaels or Jessica Simpson, but my smile desperately needed a touch-up. Just like my dad, I have the chompers of British royalty. (Unfortunately, that means Prince Charles, not Prince William). And an escalating coffee habit didn’t help.

And so I decided to give the Lustre system a whirl. Instructions on the outside of the box claimed I only needed to follow a three-step whitening process. First, you use a hydrogen peroxide-based rinse. Then you individually paint whitening gel on each tooth. Finally, you shine a whitening light on your not-so-pearly whites.

Easy enough. But when I opened the box and read the actual instructions, I learned that, in order to get the maximum whitening effect, you needed to try this three-step process 20 times.

I shrugged and plunged in anyway. The kit included a little card of tooth-enamel shades before the whitening process. I was supposed to check the pre-Lustre shade of my teeth so I could see how many shades it lightened after the treatment. (My pre-brightened shade lurked somewhere between “olive drab” and “Steve Buscemi.”)

Then the whitening march began. For the next hour, I worked like a dental galley slave. Even after 60 minutes of rinsing, painting and shining, I only got through 12 repetitions. And this wasn’t like whitening strips, which I could slap on and ignore while doing something else. I had to be devoted full time to this.

My odd ritual aroused the interest of the whole family. Our dog, Jake, who usually avoids the bathroom because it reminds him of “bath time,” actually stood in the doorway and gazed at me, his tail between his legs in a show of sympathetic embarrassment. My chemist husband came in, read the ingredients on the box and clucked, “There’s acid in here,” he said. “You’re going to ruin your teeth.”

Indeed, I made a disturbing sight. I would swab on the whitener and start to drool like a bull mastiff in a sausage factory. Then I’d have to shine the bluish, hand-held light on my teeth, while keeping my mouth open in a weird, joyless grin.

I will say this though.

My teeth looked lighter and brighter afterward. Even so, the whole “system” seemed awfully labor-intensive for the results I got.

You might say it lost a lot of its Lustre.

Next time, I’ll spend my money on something worthwhile.

I wonder if they still make toothpaste tube squeezers?

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com