On her 50th birthday, Nora Davison had something to smile about.
The Arlington resident had just completed eight months of cosmetic dentistry that straightened her front teeth, eliminated crowding, got rid of yellowing, and lengthened teeth that had been worn down. Davison, a physician assistant, had sought dental work after seeing old photos of herself and noticing changes in her teeth.
August Imholtz III, a 38-year-old lawyer who lives in DC’s Tenleytown, also noticed in photos that his front teeth had become crooked and his smile wasn’t as nice as it could be.
“It wasn’t that I was lacking in confidence beforehand,” Imholtz says, reflecting on his 18 months of cosmetic dental treatment. “But this does give me a more polished look. A good analogy would be the way you feel wearing your favorite shirt. You feel that way all of the time with your teeth being straight and white.”
We’ve come a long way from the days when having good teeth simply meant getting an annual checkup and cleaning and when any follow-up was devoted to filling cavities and pulling troublesome teeth.
These days, many patients want a Hollywood smile. A bright smile is perceived as a social asset and career booster, according to a survey commissioned by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. A separate AACD survey of 5,500 dental practices, conducted in 2007, placed the market for cosmetic procedures at $2.75 billion, a 15-percent increase over 2005.
According to dentists we spoke to, the recession has slowed the growth. “There aren’t as many people doing elective treatments,” says Alexandria dentist Charley Varipapa. “We’re doing smaller cases—people who are planning to get married or who just got a job.”
Still, Washington’s abundance of high-profile professionals suggests there will always be demand for aesthetic procedures.
What exactly makes for a great smile?
That’s easy, according to dentists we interviewed: a natural look.
“The optimum in cosmetic dentistry is for someone to say, ‘Wow, you’ve got a great smile,’ and for no one to know that’s not their original smile,” says Michael Pollowitz, a dentist in DC’s Spring Valley.
Among the most common challenges facing cosmetic dentists are teeth that are stained and worn, crooked and overlapping, misshapen and chipped, or with gaps between them. Dentists use a handful of methods to resolve such problems, and advances are being made all the time—in materials, techniques, and technology.
We interviewed more than a dozen area dentists about cosmetic dentistry. Here’s what they had to say about what’s working, what’s not, and what to consider before sitting down in a dental chair.>> Next: Braces