Perfect teeth say a lot about the person, and Canadians are willing to invest plenty of money on cosmetic dentistry
The way your teeth look when you smile could be sending other people the message that you are friendly - or it could be scaring them away. According to Ed Philips, a cosmetic dentist, humans are genetically programmed to take a social cue from a smile. Since early man's best weapon was his bite, a person with a rougher, more jagged-looking bite would appear dangerous and other humans would know to stay away. Today, Dr. Philips says, we are subconsciously drawn to people with even and clean-looking teeth.
"The more even and white and clean they are, the more uninvasive they look and, therefore, the message seems to be that this is someone you could work with, that you could be in love with, that you could feel comfortable with, that you could feel good around," he says.
Dr. Philips, who has been practicing dentistry for 20 years, is passionate about his work in crafting attractive smiles. He left his general practice five years ago to open The Studio for Aesthetic Dentistry in Toronto.
"I just had a real passion for esthetics, which was not easily deliverable in a general practice environment," Dr. Philips says, adding patients often feel uncomfortable or pressured when their general dentist advises them about esthetics.
Esthetics were not historically a priority in dentistry. It was not until the 1970s, when the first generation of children was born under a system of preventive dental care, that people started having fewer dental problems, such as cavities and gum disease. Today, there is a growing emphasis on esthetics.
Cosmetic dental procedures include whitening or bleaching, restoration of teeth with porcelain veneers, gum sculpting and the replacement of missing teeth with implants, which involves the placement of titanium screws that act as roots for new porcelain teeth.
Porcelain veneers are covers placed on teeth to change their shape or colour and are now a popular tool in cosmetic dentistry.
"Four years ago, people thought a porcelain veneer was something you put into your washroom," Dr. Philips says.
A veneer can also be used to correct chips and cracks, fill gaps and replace worn surfaces.
"This is like a false fingernail that is put over the teeth," he says. "They are really wonderful because you can instantly more or less change the colour or change the shape of your teeth."
Corinne Davis, 43, a bookkeeper from Uxbridge, Ont., had been considering getting her crooked front teeth fixed for a longtime.
She had twice received an estimate for braces but could not get a guarantee of the results, so she began searching for alternatives and found Dr. Philips on the Internet. She had porcelain veneers put on her front six teeth in 2001. She is happy with the result.
"I love it," Ms. Davis says. "There is not a day that goes by that I don't look and smile and think it's the best thing I ever did in my whole life. I would have my whole mouth done if I could." She is particularly pleased with the way the veneers match her natural tooth colour.
"I specifically said to him, 'I don't want these great big, honking, shiny, white teeth. I want it to look natural. They don't need to be absolutely perfect,'" she says.
The new porcelain veneers have a depth of colour that looks natural, while the older veneers looked as though they were painted on, Dr. Philips says.
Tooth bleaching or whitening is another major trend in cosmetic dentistry.
The most effective, and most expensive, whitening products are prescribed by a dentist.
Self-bleaching products that can be purchased at drugstores without prescriptions from dentists are considerably less expensive, but their effectiveness is questionable.
Dr. Philips does not have much faith in self-bleaching products and says many patients who come to him for whitening have already tried these products.
"They just don't work," he says. The whitening products prescribed by dentists typically require a patient to wear custom-made trays filled with whitening formula on their teeth at night or for several hours each day, for a week or more. These custom-made products range in price from about $250 to $950.
Other cosmetic dental procedures can be more expensive. The Web site for the Studio for Aesthetic Dentistry lists the prices for a number of its services. These include $1,000 a tooth for porcelain veneers, $600 to $1,200 for laser gum surgery, $3,500 a tooth for implants and between $550 and $950 for whitening.
Cosmetic dentistry is not covered by insurance plans.
Ms. Davis admits her veneers were pricey, but says they were well worth it.
"If I didn't have three kids to educate and all of that, I'd jump right back in that chair and have them all done. But it's not inexpensive, either:"
Cost is only one of the considerations before undergoing a cosmetic procedure.
Another is the patient's expectations.
"If I get the feeling from a person that they think that whitening is going to change their life, I'll say, 'You know what? It's not going to change your life,'" Dr. Philips says.
Cosmetic dentistry is also discouraged for people who have other dental conditions, such as gum disease and open cavities, that should be looked after first, Dr. Tam says.
Dental surgeon Ed Philips, right, with patient Corinne Davis at his cosmetic dentistry clinic in Toronto:
An attractive smile sends a positive message "that this is someone you could feel good around."