A stale Jujyfruit changed Carlos Carro Duplá’s love life.
The DC computer scientist was at the theater five years ago when he bit into the hard candy and cracked a tooth. The tooth, which had an aged silver filling, had been weak.
On a colleague’s recommendation, Duplá, 42, headed to Dr. Brian Gray’s office in DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood.
“Dr. Gray said, ‘We’re fixing that broken tooth with a porcelain onlay,’ ” Duplá says. “I thought that would be the end of it.”
It was only the beginning. After the onlay was placed atop the tooth—onlays go on like old-fashioned fillings but are more durable than silver and undetectable—Gray suggested a smile makeover. Duplá’s numerous silver fillings had turned black, his bite was off, and his teeth were unevenly shaped and—due to his weakness for coffee and Coca-Cola—were stained.
Gray, whose specialty is cosmetic work, suggested restoring the teeth with a combination of bonding (composite resin directly applied to the tooth); more porcelain onlays as well as porcelain crowns (also called caps, they cover the entire tooth); veneers (fine, translucent porcelain shells that wrap around the front surface of a tooth and won’t stain); bleaching; and Invisalign (invisible, plastic, removable retainers that progressively move teeth into correct alignment).
According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the numbers of these procedures are growing: There was a 13-percent increase from 2005 to 2006—the most recent figures available—and a projected increase of more than 10 percent in 2007.
The most requested procedure is whitening, which has increased more than 300 percent since 1996.
Although most cosmetic dentistry is not covered by insurance, Duplá says his policy paid for part of the Invisalign. The rest came out of his pocket.
“But it beats having women tell you your teeth look horrible the first time you meet,” Duplá says. “Now dating’s better. Women say my teeth look great—normal, natural, and white.”
How White Is Too White?
What looks natural now is a much whiter white and straighter straight than a decade ago. Celebrities and such TV shows as Extreme Makeover have had something to do with that. Dentists must balance what patients think they want—blinding Hollywood white—with what would look good.
“How white is too white? You don’t want teeth that are refrigerator white. They’re not supposed to hurt people’s eyes,” says Gray, who treats many TV newscasters, some of whom are “bleach addicts” who he says push to go to off-the-chart “Regis white.” Gray says he occasionally caves to those appeals even though, he says, “I want someone to say, ‘Wow, you have a pretty smile,’ not ‘Where did you get your teeth bleached?’ ”
Sandy Spring dentist Linda Steel says that while she always creates natural smiles, patients who appear on TV may need a whiter shade of white. Steel and her husband, dentist Chip Steel, have been the official cosmetic dentists for the Miss Maryland and Miss Maryland Teen beauty pageants since 1998.
“Each year the winners are referred to our office by the pageants, and we optimize their smiles prior to the national competitions,” Steel says. That means bleaching and sometimes Invisalign, bonding, and veneers.
Women tend to be more ultrawhite-obsessed than men, Gray says: “They’ll show me pictures of Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston and say, ‘I want to look like that,’ ” Gray says. “My response is, ‘I can’t make your teeth look like that. I can make them as nice as possible but not artificial.’ ”
Steel agrees that women seem more interested in better smiles: “I see successful men in their forties and fifties who have fine teeth, but they’re not as white as they could be or maybe they have a chip in one tooth. They’ll usually say, ‘My wife sent me here.’ ”
Mary Jane Bilik, 58, a partner at the law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, noticed that the bottom edges of her front teeth were beginning to nick and crack. One tooth, a dentist told her, was weakening. So Bilik decided to brighten her smile—and, in the process, strengthen her bite. DC dentist Dr. Stuart Ross placed eight veneers on her front teeth. “I’m very happy,” Bilik says. “My teeth feel stronger and smoother.” Photograph by Chris Leaman.