Several new consumer products suggest an easy way to whiter teeth and imply that the dream of a Hollywood smile can be a reality - for less than $50, reports Better Homes and Gardens, a Meredith magazine.

But use caution and consult with a dentist before taking the bite.Although these home bleaching kits may eventually do what they claim - whiten teeth - it's probably safer and more predictable to let a dentist do the job.

One reason is that discolored teeth may be a symptom of a serious dental problem, needing treatment other than just bleaching. What's more, bleaching without proper supervision by a dentist increases the risk of troublesome side effects.

For instance, some people are creating their own bleaching kits by using a store-bought mouth guard to hold the bleaching gel instead of a custom-fitted dental splint. Prolonged wearing of such a store-bought device may be uncomfortable and could affect a person's bite, and it probably won't keep the bleaching gel away from gums and in proper contact with teeth.

The actual ingredient in these bleaches that causes teeth to turn white is some form of peroxide. It's been used for years to treat other oral conditions without any known ill effects. That's why most doctors believe that it's probably safe for bleaching as well. But it must be used correctly, something only a dentist can assure.

The Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association won't give their blessing to bleaching until further investigations are completed. Several studies are under way right now at major universities across the country, says Dr. Van B. Haywood at the University of North Carolina.

So far, Haywood's own research shows that these professional products have a 90 percent success rate in improving the whiteness of teeth. And he thinks the cost will be much less than other bleaching techniques previously available to dentists, such as porcelain veneers and bonding.

For example, porcelain veneers may cost $250 to $400 per tooth compared to the same amount for bleaching all of a person's teeth. The downside: Bleaching may take two to six weeks to complete, and no one is sure how long the effect will last.