It is not uncommon for people to spend a lot of money on their appearance: make-up, monthly haircuts, manicures and pedicures, and sometimes extremes such as cosmetic surgery. Feeling well groomed in a world where appearance is frequently judged gives us a boost of confidence.

The most recent trend is teeth whitening, which comes in many forms. Celebrities constantly flaunt their pearly whites and it is no surprise that people are willing to spend extra money on products that promise them flawless, blinding white teeth. But is the cost really worth it when the same money could be better spent on causes that make a global difference?

The popular cosmetic service varies from whitening strips to whitening toothpastes to receiving professional bleaching at a dentist’s office.

Here is a cost comparison looking at how money spent on whitening products could provide mosquito nets for children fighting against the risk of malaria.

Crest Whitestrips, one of the most popular brands, range in price from $21 to $65 depending on the number of strips and the length of time one is supposed to wear the strips for. The most common version is the $30 pack, which can last people at least two months. After a year an individual can spend about $180 on whitening strips. The product claims it can whiten teeth just as effectively as a dentist’s professional whitening.

Lately most brands that carry average toothpaste and mouthwash also carry versions of those toothpastes and mouthwashes in whitening versions, ranging from Colgate and Crest to Sensodyne. These toothpastes and mouthwashes, although less costly than whitestrips or professional whitening, do usually cost more than the average product. They range from $5 to about $20 per item and do not necessarily produce the desired result. Depending on how much you pay and when you replace your toothpaste or mouthwash, the average person brushing twice daily can spend upwards of $30 to $120 dollars annually.

There are two versions of professional teeth whitening: Custom Bleaching Trays and Laser Teeth Whitening. Teeth Whitening Trays can cost anywhere between $150 to $1,500 per treatment, and Laser Teeth Whitening can cost a very expensive $500 to $2,500 per session. These treatments can take many different sessions in order to get the desired results.

Project Mosquito Net is a non-profit whose mission is to raise enough money to provide “insecticide treated bed nets to children and pregnant mothers in Kenya to prevent malaria infections and deaths.” One child is estimated to die every 30 seconds from malaria.

A mosquito net only costs $5 each, meaning that the average cost of a whitening toothpaste could provide one child or a pregnant woman with a net that could save their lives. If ten people donated the cost of one Laser Teeth Whitening session 1,000 children would be protected against deadly malaria.

Theoretically if 10 people donated their annual spending on $30 Crest Whitestrips, 360 nets would be able to be provided to children in Kenya. This puts into perspective how many lives could be changed if just a few people decided to help others instead of treating themselves.

Next time you purchase a whitening toothpaste, a box of Crest Whitestrips, or an expensive laser treatment, think about helping a young child or a pregnant woman in Kenya by providing them with protection against disease. You just might save a life.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: Dentistry for Madison, Smile Sensation, NBC News, Project Mosquito Net
Photo: Healthy Palm