Marti Lazear had had braces as a youth, but as she got older some of her teeth got crooked. One day she went for a consultation at the Washington Center for Dentistry in DC, where Dr. Peter Rinaldi recommended eight veneers. Sold, she had the work done that day. “People said, ‘Did you have your hair done? You look refreshed,’ ” she says. “I think it’s from smiling more.”
Some patients turn to drugstore whitening products, which, while safe and moderately effective for touchups, can lead to short- or long-term sensitivity, temporary dehydration, and gum irritation if abused. You should consult with your dentist prior to any bleaching.
Still, whitening doesn’t harm tooth structure. “The research has shown that bleaching continuously does not damage the tooth other than causing occasional sensitivity,” says Mickey Bernstein. The Tennessee-based cosmetic and reconstructive dentist, who has practiced for 33 years, is president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
A More Natural Smile
Bernstein says that the current trend is away from “shocking bling-bling” white and toward a more natural look. All teeth are not created equal: Natural teeth are translucent or light-reflecting, vary in color—getting darker toward the gum line, for example, and have subtle flaws such as rotations, wear marks, waves, and occlusions.
The key is symmetry and teeth that fit the face.
“With smile makeovers, I’m looking at the whole unit—all the teeth, not a single tooth,” says Peter Rinaldi, a dentist in Northwest DC. “Eye and skin color, lips, bite, smile, how you talk—it all interrelates. This is an art form, like good plastic surgery.”
Cosmetic dentistry should enhance what a patient has, says Rena Vakay, not be “a hostile takeover.” The Alexandria restorative and cosmetic dentist says that only a small percentage of her patients insists on a “Chiclets” look. “Most Washingtonians—and I see as many men as women—are savvy and informed,” she says. “They just want a believable, beautiful smile.”
Getting there often starts with bleaching. Aging and heredity as well as certain drinks (coffee, cola, red wine, grape juice), foods (berries, cherries, beets), substances (soy sauce, tobacco), and drugs your mother took when she was pregnant with you stain and darken teeth, which are porous and absorbent. The AACD study shows that baby boomers’ interest in a youthful, attractive appearance is the main factor driving the demand for cosmetic dentistry.
At 40, WMZQ-FM’s morning host Brian Egan is a little young to be a bona fide boomer, but he does love his straight new smile, whose milky whiteness he maintains every few months with custom-fitted trays and prescription-strength bleaching gel.
“I bleach the day after a cleaning and that’s about it,” says Egan, another Gray patient who had Invisalign to correct gaps in his bite. “I get photographed a lot, so with a smile that looks natural I feel more confident.”
A fast way to whiten teeth is with Zoom!, a high-intensity, metal-halide light that activates a bleaching solution spread across the teeth. Dr. Yelena Obholz offers Zoom! in her Northwest DC office. “It’s very predictable, it doesn’t hurt, and it lasts,” she says.
“Bleached teeth don’t make me a better person, but they’re an investment,” says 22-year-old Katie Knieriem, who graduated from American University in May and went to see Obholz, whose office is walking distance from the school. “ ‘Attractive people go farther’—that’s what my dad always says.”
Patients with sensitive teeth, such as Knieriem, are given a desensitizing gel before and after Zoom! to keep them comfortable. Using a desensitizing toothpaste for two weeks twice a day before the procedure also helps. “Katie has beautiful teeth,” Obholz says. “She just needed to get them whiter. It’s much easier with a younger patient who’s had only 15 years of staining.”
“I’m very satisfied with my teeth, and my friends and family thought I looked great,” Knieriem says. As for the cost, “you can spend a thousand bucks on Starbucks a year, or you can spend half that on bleaching, which’ll last much longer.”
“It started with a cracked tooth,” says Brett Stern, 49, of Fairfax. Then Dr. Kevin Ryan of Springfield talked to Stern about his misaligned jaw. “I had been interested in filling the gaps in my teeth,” Stern says. “One thing led to another.” After several months of wearing orthotics to correct his bite, Stern got veneers or crowns for almost all his teeth: “They did it all under sedation. I didn’t feel a thing.”