Rich people’s problems: should i have my teeth whitened?

Photo Rich People’s Problems: Should I have my teeth whitened?

I am 47 years old. My hair is grey. It is the only part of my body that’s thinning. Despite a recent diet, I’m still too fat. I love cake. And chips. And chocolate.

I could afford to have a gastric band or liposuction. Or a Rooney-style hair transplant. Come to think of it, I am quite blind and wear contact lenses. Perhaps I should spend £1,650 per eye for corrective laser surgery? Apparently that would accelerate the need for reading glasses.

No. I don’t want that. Or Botox. I want to be able to smile and laugh or cry should I need to. We are all destined to get old. Some of us will be blessed with genes that let us do this gracefully. With personal baggage out the way, what on earth has teeth whitening got to do with any of that?

It’s in the twilight zone. A vanity project but not exactly cosmetic surgery. Vanity projects with clothes are socially acceptable. Dropping a grand on a coat because it’s Moncler is fine. If it makes you feel good and you’ve got the cash to splash, do it. Going to the dentist is a necessity. But whiter teeth? That’s either something you were lucky enough to be born with or you can purchase. But it’s not surgery. So should I do it?

I am not a fan of cosmetic surgery for the simple reason that, usually, you can tell it’s been done. For a decade, I went to the Caribbean at Christmas. The palm tree-lined sandy bay festooned with sun loungers was ideal for people watching. The same crowd tended to return. Your route to your usual spot was an anthropological study, spying on those around you to try to see their latest surgical procedure. 

One lady had something done every year. I swear she’d had so many facelifts she needed to shave. Another had so much Botox she’d lost the ability to do facial expressions. A bloke we nicknamed Speedo Man (not a pretty sight), his wife and nuisance children were regulars. One year, we thought he had traded his wife in, such was the change to her face.

The gents seemed more subtle. Some favoured exercise (having coughed up huge sums for a personal trainer) but often the wealthier set bypassed the hard work by splashing the cash on the odd nip, tuck or eye lift. They didn’t look their age. And as many of them were Americans, their teeth were perfect.

We live in an age where these things matter. How many times have you stared at the television and seen presenters with cocktail sticks for teeth? On the old Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson was forever goading the Hamster about whether he had whitened his teeth. I am sure he had. Mr Clarkson certainly had not.

My teeth are not Clarksonesque but I still have two baby teeth. Meaning they are gappy. Aged 12, that was cute. Now, not so much. I’ve never been scared of going to the dentist, I don’t have any fillings and my teeth are otherwise in great shape. But they are discoloured. Not badly stained but perhaps not as white as I’d like them to be . . . although I certainly don’t want to look like an American news anchor. Should I get my teeth whitened? 

So how could whitening your teeth possibly make you feel or look better if so much else has to be attended to in the looks department?

Because it’s relatively easy. Like shoes, it doesn’t matter where your waistline is on the scale at any given moment, they’ll fit — or in this case the treatment will have an immediate effect. You could be as big as a house but, hey, you have nice teeth.

At least twice a day you look in the mirror. Hair grows from everywhere except where you’d like it to, while wobbly bits and bingo wings dominate your visage. Then you brush your teeth. And they don’t look good. Unless you shut your mouth. And if you are as chatty as me, you don’t want to do that.

As I learnt on the first series of The Apprentice when we were sent to Harrods for a task, the head of marketing said: “Teeth make smiles. And smiles make sales.” Boom. Let’s be honest — no one wants to see (or worse, smell) a set of manky teeth.

Yet if I go for this teeth whitening vanity project, I’ll still be Gappy McGapface. Would they look nicer if they were whiter? If only I had bothered with orthodontistry as a teenager. Two years of extractions and metal train tracks in my mouth, and the baby teeth would have been replaced by shiny new ones waiting in the gums, and the gaps closed.

It’s fine to have braces as a kid but I’m not prepared to go through this ordeal as an adult. Plus the cost is likely to be £10,000 or so.

Whitening, on the other hand, is cheaper and quicker. I could buy teeth-whitening toothpaste but that’s only useful to keep teeth white after you’ve had them whitened. Then there are the whitening pens. Useless. If you want it done properly, go to a private dentist. 

I don’t mind paying full whack for dental treatment. I have a similar attitude to my hair. My last cut cost £70. I’ve had the same hairdresser for 20 years.

I understand that the difference between a good and bad haircut is two weeks. But I won’t take the risk. I could go to a barber and pay less but I’d rather not have a fortnight of hell looking as if I’d tried to cut it myself. Like when I was five, which prompted a call home from school asking if everything was all right. Similarly, I am not going to take the risk with my teeth.

Teeth whitening starts with £65 for a check-up and £97 for the hygienist. They will warn you about the risks of bleaching.

There are two options:

  • £350 and they’ll make bespoke trays that you put in at home. Friends tell me to beware of the jaw ache from having your mouth awkwardly jammed open for over an hour. Then there’s the panacea of instant treatment —
  • £490 for laser-powered bleaching and in 90 minutes you have whiter teeth. But hang on, they suggest you have the trays afterwards to get the best results. That’s more than £1,000.

Should I do it? Is it money well spent? Either way, I don’t want you to notice whether I did or not. Winter’s on the way; I think I’d rather have the coat.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at richpeoplesproblems@ft.com