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The science of smiles

Improve Your Smile

Laser technology brightens up smiles
In the image-drive 90s, the perfect smile packs power. A Toronto dental surgeon has remade ‘thousands’ of smiles, for everyone from a litigating lawyer to a union worker.

Dr. Philips in the News…

The Complex Smile
The top lip, bottom lip and corners of the mouth pull back simultaneously. Only 2 per cent of the population are characterized by this rare smile: Marilyn Monroe, Julia Roberts, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey.

The Cuspid Smile
First the top lip goes up, exposing the canine teeth, then the corners of the mouth contract, pulling the lips up and out. A third of smiles (31 per cent) are this type, including those of Elvis Presley, Tom Cruise, Linda Evangelista, Sharon Stone and Tiger Woods.

The Commisure Smile
First the corners of the mouth pull up and outward, and then the top lip pulls up to show the upper teeth. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of the population has this smile. Look for it on Elizabeth Taylor, Calista Flockhart (TV’s Ally McBeal), Jerry Seinfeld, Brooke Shields and Frank Sinatra.

By the time you notice the drill, it seems like an afterthought.

First, a gorgeously appointed waiting room, with amber velvet chairs and frosted glass walls. The cozy change room, with kimono and fuzzy slippers waiting. One sole dentist chair, where the patient lounges, lulled by soothing music on wireless headphones, or perhaps engrossed in a movie on the screen at her feet. A discreet little room where she can rinse and spit through numbed lips in seclusion. And no trace of that sharp, antiseptic smell; instead, only a light floral scent, with traces of vanilla.

This is not dentistry as we know it: This is the science of smiles. It is being pioneered by Dr. Edward Philips, a Toronto dentist who in July opened at Hydro Place on University Avenue what he says is the first studio purely for esthetic dentistry in North America.

Philips, a man of such enthusiasm that his words often backlog in his mouth and spill out in a jumble, boldly claims to have identified the seven principles of the perfect smile. And he is set to bring them to the public from this cool ecru studio, so that no one need smile an embarrassed, close-lipped smile any longer (at least, not if they have some spare cash).

Philips said he had the luxurious surroundings designed by Yabu Pushelberg to soothe patients who must override their natural distaste for the dentist’s office to voluntarily climb into the chair. Presumably the coddling also makes patients feel better about the $5,000 they spend on average for Philips’ services.

These patients’ teeth do not hurt, and probably function just fine. But the people who seek Philips out (men and women in crowds large enough to prompt him to renounce a profitable downtown practice in favour of the sleek studio) want their teeth to look better. So, using new dental techniques such as the fusion of porcelain veneer to the teeth, gingivectomy (removal of gum tissue) and laser whitening, Philips has remade "thousands" of smiles for them, from a litigating lawyer who wanted a charming, persuasive grin, to a union leader who came in and requested "socialist teeth" (nothing too flashy).

"They don’t know what’s wrong exactly, but the people who come in here know that something could be better about their smile," said studio director Billy Jo Sabo. She is there to greet them, and introduce them to the world of the scientifically perfect smile, with the aid of videos, charts, a nifty little mouth camera, and computer morphing. "If you took a focus group of 100 people and showed them a series of smiles, they would all agree on what looks good, but they couldn’t say why," said Philips. "We didn’t have a language for that."

Until, that is, he invented one: He has defined seven principles for the perfect smile, among them the idea that when smiling, the corners of the lips should reach to a vertical line drawn straight down from the pupils, and that the convex curve of the upper top teeth should mirror the curve of the lower lip. Philips bases his smile science on the Golden Proportion, a concept of shape found in nature (such as the sphere of a dandelion, or curve of the nautilus shell) which is, in its symmetry, inherently pleasing and intrinsic to the human perception of beauty. From this, he has calculated an exact length for teeth, amount of visible gum, and degree of space between teeth to give a smile the symmetry that silently soothes the brain.

In the image-drive 90s, the perfect smile packs power: Philips noted that the smile is the first thing, along with the eyes, that a person notices about another. Subconsciously, he suggested, people are put off by flawed mouths. "We think of dental anomalies in connection with congenital defects, which are also associated with low intelligence."

For Mary Anne Dunlop, it was nothing that dramatic; she just didn’t like her teeth, which were slightly uneven and discoloured. "We’re living in a world where it’s important to look your best, from the standpoint of business and competing, and also personally," said Dunlop, 49, a Kingston, Ont., insurance broker who had her smile "improved" in March. "We’ve moved on from the time when you just accepted whatever came your way as you aged." Dunlop described herself as a 50s kid with teeth that did not benefit from the kind of preventative treatment that is now standard; as she got older, it gnawed at her. "I could put on the nicest dress, colour grey hair, run and work out, but with my old smile, it just wasn’t as effective. Not wasted, but not as effective."

Dunlop was so impressed with her scientifically aligned smile that she took her husband Allan to Philips. When he received totally different advice about his smile than she had on hers, she said, it confirmed for her that there was a science to Philips’ work.

There are, of course, questions to be asked about entirely elective surgery that plays with perfectly functional teeth. "Esthetics are important and patients should be informed of the possibilities when they themselves see a problem," said Dr. Dorothy McComb, head of the restorative dentistry department at the University of Toronto dental school. But she is worried that the hype around new technologies in esthetic dentistry may overshadow the real disadvantages and limitations of the treatment. "Nothing is better than an untouched, sound dentician, in terms of function and longevity. Once a dentist starts to drill and change things, [the remade teeth] will need maintenance and it may even need renewing, and that could lead to further loss of tooth structure."

McComb was quick to point out that she herself teaches esthetic dentistry, and she praised veneers as a sound and largely successful product. But to apply them, she noted, at least half the enamel is taken off the front of the tooth. "This is a medical procedure and it shouldn’t be done frivolously."

Philips countered that in virtually all of the cases he treats, there is some medical benefit to the reshaping of the mouth. Beyond that, he argued, it is impossible to quantify the value of improved self-image.

"These are people with relatively healthy teeth and a darn good smile," he acknowledged. "But they want to look better. And I can do that."


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