Some adults seek to polish up smile
New techniques boost demand for cosmetic dentistry
If you're trying to improve your look or you want to make a better first impression at a job interview, maybe it's time to put your money where your mouth is.
The mere mention of the dentist - or worse, dental surgery - is enough to make most people cringe.
But with all the advancements in cosmetic dentistry in recent years, some adults are actually seeking out the dentist's chair to get their teeth whitened, straightened and brightened.
For the most part, there's no tooth fairy to pick up the bill. Yet some whose parents couldn't afford braces when they were younger are now spending the money and taking the time and trouble to wear them. They even have the option of wearing newer white braces which aren't as noticeable as the traditional metal wires.
All in all, improving your smile has become less painful and time-consuming.
It's also become a cutting- edge business. Just ask Dr. Ed Philips, whose office credo is: "will that be fluoride or a cappuccino?"
Philips, a dental surgeon in Toronto for 20 years, has just opened an ultra-modem "studio for aesthetic dentistry" - complete with a cappuccino maker, stereo, VCR and a separate washroom for spitting. . It's in the Ontario Hydro build at University Ave. and College St.
He describes his office, which is as white and bright as a smile, quite simply: "It's 2,000 square feet with one chair."
Instead of dealing with filling and annual cleanings, his new practice is limited strictly to the business of smiles - and it isn't all laughs either.
Like every dentist, Philips sees his share of patients who for years have covered their mouths when they laugh or smile because of teeth that are horribly crooked, terribly misshapen or brutally stained.
In fact, problem teeth have held some of his patients back from going for a promotion, public speaking or just meeting new people because of the fear of rejection or ridicule.
"One CEO (chief executive officer) came in to get some work done because whenever he smiled, he looked mean and nasty and it was really affecting his image at work - but he was actually the nicest man," said Philips, whose clientele is mostly professionals and people in the entertainment industry.
The CEO acquired a softer smile after just a few visits to Philips's office, where his sharp teeth were filed down and covered up with a natural-looking white porcelain veneer, which is fused on to existing teeth to improve both colour and shape.
Even entertainment mogul Mark Breslin, founder of the Yuk Yuk's comedy chain, used to smile with his mouth closed because of teeth he described as chipped, thin, uneven and badly discoloured.
But he finally faced his fear of the dentist's chair over the last month to get the kind of grin that was worth opening wide for.
"Of all people, I should be able to smile," he said, adding he was prompted to get his teeth fixed after repeated jabs from friends and fans about how bad they looked.
He found a lot has changed since he was a kid getting fillings at his family dentist, which he recalled as "pure torture."
While he said that the five lengthy visits to the dental surgeon weren't exactly the most fun he's ever had, he's thrilled with the results.
"I'm very, very happy I got it done," he said. Satisfaction did cost him, though; he paid $10,000 to cover his upper teeth with porcelain veneer and get laser whitening for the bottom.
"You can't put a price tag on your appearance," he said. "It's like spending money on fitness or buying really nice clothes. It's really worth it."
The cost is certainly something to chew on. The average price range for smile improvement runs between $200 to $5,000, Philips estimates.
Some of the work - from braces and bridges to caps and crowns - may be partially covered by dental insurance plans if the improvement is deemed a necessity, either due to an accident or a defect in the tooth.
But for dentistry that is strictly cosmetic, such as bleaching and porcelain veneer, you'll have to get out your chequebook.
The general rule, says Don Mills dentist Lily Lo, is that "anything that goes on your front teeth is cosmetic." Most dentists have monthly instalment plans but they vary from office to office. Some like to have at least half paid up front and stretch the rest out over several months while others will take equal payments over six months. If you need more time to pay, you can apply for special funding at your dentist's office.
Toronto-based Global Facilities Inc. can provide an interest-free loan over 12 months. After the 12 months, a hefty annual interest rate of 27.9 per cent kicks in, which could replace some smiles with a frown.
The price tag of the myriad cosmetic procedures varies from dentist to dentist.
"It's not like buying carpets. It's not easy, from a business perspective, to shop around for prices or to get a second opinion from different dentists," Philips acknowledged.
The Ontario Dental Association has a recommended fee schedule dentists use as a guide to how much to charge for specific procedures.
However, individual dentists are free to charge whatever they want above - and even below - that.
Generally, braces for adults will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, which includes dental visits over the two- to three-year period. It costs about $500 more for white braces.
Individual crowns can cost $500 to $800 per tooth. Porcelain veneer costs about around $700 a tooth and the average time spent in the chair is about six hours.
For general staining and yellowing, most dentists recommend a home whitening kit which is typically used for about an hour a day over two weeks. The cost is usually about $250, but more intensive bleaching treatments at the dentist's office could cost up to $800. For deeper staining and discolouration, you could visit a dental surgeon for laser whitening, which costs $800 to $1,200.
Lo, whose office is on Lawrence Ave. E. near the Don Valley Parkway, says she tries to give her patients something to smile about whenever she can through the wave of advancements in her field.
"People are becoming a lot more aware of their appearance, including their smile," she said, adding: "Who wouldn't want to get something done to improve it.
"If you're looking for a job, you want to have a good appearance - and bad teeth do not make a very good first impression," Lo said.
Lana Elalfi, one of her patients, is thrilled with the results she has been getting after just one week's use of a home bleaching kit.
"I drink a lot of coffee and I used to brush and brush and there was never any change," she said.