Put your money where your mouth is
As a smile triggers happy hormones, Hannah Coates discovers the new tooth treatments worth grinning about…
A pearly white glint bouncing off teeth is forever an indication of health and beauty – just look at Meghan Markle. But new stats show that we’re not as willing to flash our smiles as much as we should: an overwhelming 70% of us are self-conscious of our teeth*, with 40% blaming image-based social media sites. And it makes sense, considering we’re no longer just faced with Julia Roberts’ heart-melting grin when we choose to put on Notting Hill, but also, thanks to Instagram, we’re continually exposed to perma-white smiles. So, what can we do to enhance what we have and soften the things we don’t like quite so much?
‘Gone are the days where we were happy to have invasive treatments to achieve the perfect smile,’ says Dr Raman Aulakh of Bow Lane Dental. ‘Now it’s not about cutting teeth down and adding a load of veneers, but rather a softer and more holistic approach to teeth.’ Dr Nadine Skipp from Aura Dental agrees. ‘It’s about tooth conservation.’ Keeping our teeth and gums strong and healthy is high on our smile agenda, while any changes we do make veer towards a classic, natural appearance. Importantly, this way of looking holistically at our mouths (and faces) means that we avoid knocking out the idiosyncratic qualities that make our smiles quintessentially us.
WHITE YOU ARE
Because the whites of the eyes and teeth are at opposing ends of the face, if one changes colour ( in teeth’s case, yellows), the balance is upset and you’ll really notice it. That’s why we thank our lucky stars for whitening, probably the quickest way to improve your smile. And no, we’re not talking about Ross Geller glow-in-the-dark levels of bright white. ‘ Whitening should be used to give a natural light beauty, not an opaque glow,’ says Dr Skipp. ‘A lot of that Hollywood brilliant white is veneers.’
The best option is at-home whitening, using plastic trays made from impressions taken of your mouth. To lighten teeth, a bleaching agent (either fast-acting hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which takes a bit longer) needs to be present, and this comes in a gel that is dotted – by you – into the tray. Many people choose to whiten overnight, which used to be the only option, but it takes longer for the chemical processes to occur. Now, higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (Dr Skipp uses 6% for day – the max allowed under EU regulations) mean you need less tray time. ‘ The day kit only takes an hour, while night is more like four hours,’ she says, ‘and you get less sensitivity because there’s less contact with the teeth.’ Either way, expect to whiten daily for an average of two weeks to achieve the best results. One of the best home kits on the market is Philips Zoom! in Daywhite and Nitewhite, from £59.95.
The right shade of white depends on your colouring. ‘Pale skins, blondes and redheads can deal with much whiter teeth than dark hair and skin tones,’ says Dr Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling Clinic, while cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eskander points out that, for a subtle look, it tends to be around seven shades lighter than your existing colour. The bleaching process only works on natural teeth, so if you already have veneers, crowns or fillings, don’t expect them to change colour. ‘ You’ll also notice increased tooth sensitivity during the treatment,’ says Dr Skipp.
The other option for brighter teeth is an in-clinic laser, which combines hydrogen peroxide gel with a laser to catalyse the process. The result? You get two weeks’ worth of at-home results in under an hour. ‘ This is complemented with a tailored home whitening system,’ says Dr Eskander. The key difference between the two treatments isn’t the effect, but the time and money spent – expect to pay in the region of £400-£600 for in-clinic whitening.
Before either, good tooth and gum health is essential and most dentists insist on a hygienist appointment pre-whitening. ‘ While you’re whitening and as much as possible thereafter, avoid tooth-staining dark foods and drinks like curry, coffee, cola and red wine,’ says Dr Skipp. If you suffer the shakes without your coffee fix, try a glass straw, like Raw Straw’s green ones, £10 for four, which means the coffee doesn’t have to touch your teeth as you drink. And will whitening toothpastes actually help? They can help shift surface stains but over-the-counter products can only legally contain up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, so they won’t fundamentally change the colour of teeth.
How your mouth holds itself matters more than you might think. ‘ The perfect smile is where you can see teeth equally from one side to the other, with just a hint of gum,’ says Dr Okoye. The shape, which relies heavily on the positioning of your teeth, also serves as a scaffold for the rest of the face. Unfortunately, the collagen in gums degrades as we age and teeth begin to tumble inwards. Add gum disease to the mix, which also accelerates collagen degradation and loss of teeth, and you’ve got cheekbones that don’t want to stay lifted. ‘ We can address this by using braces to expand the smile again,’ says Dr Okoye, who also uses implants to maintain or reinforce the arch of the smile where needed. Invisalign, a
avoid toothstaining dark foods and drinks
plastic ‘tray’ system that gradually moves teeth every two weeks (at which point you receive a new, differently-shaped tray) is one of the easiest ways to do it, and notably is wire-free. ‘It allows you to take your brace on and off,’ says Dr Aulakh, as well as being virtually invisible and as comfortable to wear as braces can be. ‘ You do have to wear it for 22 hours a day though.’ As with all braces, it doesn’t come cheap – you’re looking at £3,000-£5,000 depending on the severity of your problem, who treats you and where in the country you are.
Other options include lingual braces, which are also invisible but sit fixed on the back of teeth, ceramic braces that are clear versions of the classic train track, and then full-blown train tracks, which cost between £2,000-£2,500.
LOVE YOUR GUMS
Of course, your smile is far more than just teeth. ‘It’s as much about the amount of gum on show and how your lips animate around your teeth, as it is good teeth,’ says Dr Aulakh. Overbrushing, gum disease, stress and hormonal issues all contribute to recessed gums and, as Dr Okoye points out, ‘ The less gum you have, the older you will look.’ When gums have recessed quite far as a result of gum disease or overbrushing, the result is a black triangle near the base of the tooth that feels sensitive, too. Fear not, for the ‘gum graft’ can cure all, and it isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. ‘It’s where you take tissue from another part of the mouth, like behind the molar teeth, and transplant it to the recessed gum,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘It sounds gruesome but only takes one to two hours.’ On the pain barometer, it will feel sore (a bit like an ulcer) for about 48 hours afterwards.
SAY NO TO CHIP S
Chips, irregularity and gaps can make or break a smile. ‘Often, after teeth have been straightened, we hone in on little things we might not have noticed in the past,’ says Dr Aulakh. Bonding involves sticking a putty-like material on to teeth to subtly restore or mould their shape.
THE HOL HOLLYWOOD LYWOOD SMI SMILE LE
Veneers are behind most A-list smiles. They are porcelain or resin caps that sit over teeth and make them look, well, perfect. ‘ You have to cut a lot of the existing tooth to make them fit so they can be destructive to your natural teeth,’ warns Dr Aulakh.