One of the things I enjoy most about my job is helping people achieve a beautiful smile. When consulting with a patient who isn’t happy with their smile there are several factors that have to be considered. The most important is determining exactly what it is the patient wants! The definitions of a beautiful smile are as varied as the people who desire them, but there are some overall principles that I always assess, such as position, shape and color of the teeth.
Let’s talk about tooth position first. Teeth that are misaligned, even if they have good shape and color, can result in an unaesthetic smile. How to go about correcting this depends on the severity of the misalignment. Orthodontics – either traditional braces or clear aligners (such as Invisalign and Clear Correct) – can move the teeth into their optimal position, whether the problem is crowding, spacing or angulation of the teeth. For severely misaligned teeth this is usually the best option. For smaller problems other options can sometimes be considered, such as cosmetic bonding, veneers, and/or crowns. Each option has its pros and cons. (I’ll probably do an entry on the differences between these in the near future.) Part of my job – and my responsibility – is to help patients understand each of these options and to make the decision that is best for them and that will give them the result they desire.
Teeth come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but unless you are having a denture made it can be difficult to change the shape and size of all the teeth at once. Minor changes to shape and size can be accomplished with re-contouring, cosmetic bonding or veneers. Crowns allow for a more pronounced change. In all of these cases, however, we are limited to the space that exists for the teeth. Someone with a small arch can’t fit the same sized teeth as someone with a large arch.
Color is another important factor in creating a beautiful smile. There are many things that can cause teeth to darken. Some childhood illnesses or medications can discolor a tooth from the inside. Trauma can also cause a tooth to darken over time. Certain restorations can also discolor a tooth. Silver-mercury (amalgam) fillings usually give a very gray appearance to a tooth. Very old composite fillings are sometime not very color-stable. That’s not a problem with modern composite fillings, thankfully. Coffee, tobacco, red wine and other dark-colored drinks can stain teeth as well. I’ve even seen teeth that were stained a greenish color from drinking too much Mountain Dew! Discoloration can also happen naturally as we age. And, frankly, some people just naturally have dark teeth. Blame your parents for that one!
The good news is that the color of teeth can be changed. The solution will depend on exactly what is causing the discoloration. Staining can usually be removed with a good cleaning and maybe some tooth-whitening. Metal fillings can be removed and replaced with tooth-colored (composite) fillings. If the discoloration is from within the tooth then most likely some sort of cosmetic dentistry will be needed. Whether this is bonding, veneers or crowns will again depend on the situation.
There are two other factors of a beautiful smile to quickly touch on. The first is the soft tissues that surround the teeth, such as the gums and lips. Sorry, but I’m not the one to help you change your lips. The gums are another matter. Uneven gingival contours – if they show when you smile – can detract from the beauty of the smile. Gingival surgery to reshape the gums can do wonders for a smile. This can also help to make teeth that look short and squat to appear longer and fuller. I don’t do surgeries myself, but work closely with surgical specialists who are experts in this area and get beautiful results .
The last factor is the negative space around the teeth and gums. This is closely related to both the position and the shape/size of the teeth. The space between the back teeth and the cheeks is often referred to as the buccal corridor. A wide, broad smile that fills the buccal corridor is typically more attractive than a narrow, constructed smile with an empty buccal corridor. Additionally, the size and relation of the small triangular spaces between the corners of the teeth (called embrasures by those in the field) can drastically affect the overall appearance of the smile.
Did you have any idea that this was so complex and involved? Good thing you know someone who is qualified and available to help you! (Wink, wink…) Have more question? Give us a call and schedule a consultation!