Dazzling white teeth have become as important to the celebrity look as a wrinkle-free forehead and designer sunglasses. So it is perhaps inevitable that the modern imperative to flash the faultless "Hollywood smile", associated with such luminaries as Tom Cruise, is fuelling a boom in teeth-whitening products.

Such is the level of demand that dental products, once limited to oral hygiene, command a beauty category of their own. According to a report by marketing research group Mintel, sales of floss, dental gum and teeth whitening kits have grown in value from £17m in 2001 to £37m last year.

Whitening products were the driving factor behind this growth, according to the report. Overall sales of toothbrushes, toothpaste and other oral hygiene products grew by 5.5 per cent to £616m between 2001 and 2005. Toothpaste made up about half that amount at £305m, while toothbrushes accounted for 24 per cent of it. Although toothbrush sales dipped by 4 per cent over the four year period, mouthwash sales rose by 16 per cent to reach £86m.

Mintel expects dental floss, gum and whitening products will continue to see the fastest sales growth of the entire sector. Sales of these goods will rise by a predicted 86 per cent to £69m by 2010, its report says. Mintel's senior market analyst, David Bird, said: "The UK oral hygiene market has evolved into a whole new beauty sector.

"One of the biggest influences on the market has been the rising cult of celebrity, many of whom sport clinically enhanced pure white teeth. These stars have undoubtedly encouraged consumers to buy dental products on cosmetic rather than hygienic factors alone."

Mintel predicts that the total oral hygiene and toothbrushes market will grow by a further 11 per cent by 2010.

Tooth whitening, or bleaching, has grown in popularity as white teeth are thought to be associated with youth. A child's milk teeth are generally whiter than the adult teeth that follow. Darkening is due to changes in the mineral structure of the tooth, and teeth can also become stained by bacterial pigments, foodstuffs and tobacco.

The attractions of white teeth have not been lost on the American film industry, where the "Hollywood smile" is considered de rigeur. However clinicians have warned that teeth whitening can lead to chemical burns, sensitive teeth and over-bleaching, resulting in so-called "fridge door teeth". And even Tom Cruise had to wear a brace for two years before achieving his current dashing grin.

It is thought that an array of Hollywood actors and American singers, including Jon Bon Jovi, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears and Eva Longoria, owe their dazzling smiles to teeth whitening. Television journalists have followed suit in the search for the perfect toothpaste smile.

The best results of the artificial finishes come from porcelain veneers, which require a more intensive procedure than bleaching. Molds are made of the complete set of teeth, which are then filed down and fitted individually with porcelain shells, which go around the outside of the tooth.

Veneers are used when patients have spaces or crooked, chipped or small teeth. They are the updated version of the crown, which goes over the whole tooth and requires more reduction of the original.