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The skin of my teeth - Rob Felt

It's been nearly an hour of this. My mouth is half open, very dry and laced with a tangy medicinal flavor. Glancing at my watch every 30 seconds doesn't seem to be making the time go any faster, but at this point it's the only form of entertainment I can focus on.

The gooey plastic strips are shifting from their home position and every nudge with my tongue gives me a fresh taste of peroxide gel. Forced to make strange sucking noises when I need to swallow, I realize that this is an activity best practiced in solitude.

The over-the-counter teeth whitening craze started just a few years ago, as I remember, and has matured into an act as common as rinsing with mouthwash.

This is my first run at the thing, and it's going to be a long three weeks.

As an industry, teeth whitening is brilliant, because it creates a demand for itself. Before you could whiten your own teeth, you didn't have to worry about it, but now that you can, you pay $50 a year for a kit of goo strips to stay as pretty as your neighbors.

The advertising is simple. You feel self-conscious, you drink coffee or you smoke? Buy this and feel better. Afraid to smile in public and reveal your nasty yellow teeth? Here you go. Build confidence and become a better person in less than a month.

It's not Botox or breast implants. I don't mean to down the whitening craze or imply that it feeds our contemporary obsession with body perfection. Washing your face is probably skippable if you break it down to that level, as is deodorant, so keeping your teeth white is really more about projecting a clean image than a younger or sexier one.

A possible side-effect of this self-improvement at-home remedy is that people will forgo their dental exams to purchase whitening products. This may keep the teeth in the front of your mouth white while you have giant, rotting cavities growing in the back. There could be a generation of people running around with perfectly white smiles and only a dozen teeth.

As a friend of mine once warned after skipping a decade of regular exams, "Take care of your teeth." It's great to have white ones, but if you don't keep them in your head you'll have nothing to hang those goopy strips from.

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or .