Going Long in the Tooth for a Younger Smile

A woman smiling.
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The makings of a young smile can now go beyond whitening your teeth. For those who have the means and the inclination, cosmetic dentists now offer subtler improvements, such as lengthening or reshaping your pearly whites.

And after researching the trends in cosmetic dentistry, I find myself looking at people with a new eye. On the train, during my morning commute this week, I found myself staring at people's mouths, noticing how much of their upper teeth are showing. It goes back to what dentist Dan Deutsch brought to my attention.

"Every decade over the age of 30," Deutsch says, "you show a millimeter less of your front teeth." Everything starts to sag a little, and the elasticity in the skin around the lips isn't what it used to be. So, as gravity pulls its weight, more of the bottom teeth show.

"It's an older look," Deutsch says.

Stalling the Inevitable

There's a way to reverse — or at least slow down — the inevitable. Deutsch shows photos of a recent patient who opted for porcelain veneers on her front teeth to make them slightly longer.

"I gave her back a young look by just giving her the right length," Deutsch says, "and this makes people feel better about themselves."

Another of Deutsch's patients, Alison Smith, says her parents' generation was mostly concerned with just keeping their teeth from falling out.

"I think we all have higher expectations," Smith says.

Smith says that at 53, she is not aiming for perfection. She mainly wants her teeth to be straight. They used to be. She had braces as a teenager. But one of the other bummers of aging is that teeth have a good memory.

Orthodontist Garrett Djeu explains there are tiny fibers that connect teeth to bone in the mouth.

"Those fibers tend to pull the teeth back to where they came from" Djeu says, "so that's why you commonly get relapse."

To solve the problem, one company has popularized invisible braces called Invisalign. The technology involves using a sequence of transparent, plastic molds that are worn like retainers. Alison Smith has opted for this process. Over the next six months, she'll get a new retainer every 10 days. Each one will push her teeth a little closer to being straight.

"And when I first put them in, it was a few days of Advil just to get used to it," she says.

Clear braces are hugely popular but there's not a lot of research to demonstrate the success rate of Invisalign. Orthodontist Garrett Djeu did do a small study, comparing Invisalign to traditional braces.

"Invisalign works very well in certain types of cases," Djeu says. But it's not for buck teeth, overbites or crossbites. Djeu found that Invisalign is good at closing small gaps and correcting mildly crowded teeth.

Luminescent Smiles

For dentists, the ability to straighten teeth is a big draw. But patients also pay top dollar to get a beautiful, luminescent, white smile.

Thanks to innovations in ceramics, 42-year-old Andrea Johnson is getting a crown on her front tooth that looks absolutely real.

Johnson watches in the mirror as Deutsch's staff ceramicist paints the porcelain to add subtle bits of color.

"It looks great," Johnson says. As a business analyst, she does a lot of presentations, so she says it's important to have a confident smile. But she says the cost is significant.

"It's about two grand," Johnson says. "Now, imagine if I had to do a couple of them, which, thank God, I don't."

The cost of veneers can also run a couple thousand per tooth. Invisible braces range from about $2,000 to $6,000.

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