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Putting a smile on your face

Dr. Philips in the News…

Dr. Edward Philips takes smiling seriously. So Seriously, in fact, that he walked away from a general dentistry practice to devote all his time to beautifying smiles. So seriously that he has developed a science of smiling and a language to describe it. So seriously that he has built a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility- a shrine to the perfect smile in which to practise his art and his passion: aesthetic dentistry.

The Studio for Aesthetic Dentistry is nothing like the typical dentist’s office. But then, Dr. Philips is not a typical dentist. For one thing, he does not clean teeth, fill cavities, or chide patients for not flossing. Those tasks, he says, are the job of a client’s family dentist. He is adamant that clients do not have to worry about alienating their current dentist when they pay a visit to the studio.

"We know the vast majority of Ontarians are happy with their current dentist, and we want them to keep their relationships with their family dentists," Dr. Philips says. "In fact, we insist that they do."

However, when a client wants to enhance the appearance of anal-ready healthy smile, a visit to Dr. Philip’s office maybe in order. Here, clients, many of whom are dentists themselves, learn about smiles and the range of treatments – including whitening, applying veneers and acrylic resins, and untwisting teeth – available to beautify them. In some cases, aesthetic dentistry can be a substitute for braces and orthodontia.

"We have created an environment with a very distinct aesthetic," says Dr. Philips.

"It is a very different emotional space than the place you would normally go to get a root canal."

Looking around, it is easy to see what he means. A bank of interactive television screens commands the information centre at the front of the downtown Toronto office, with educational programming on aesthetic dentistry available at the touch of a button. Consultations take place in the light, airy office belonging to studio director Billie J0 Sabo. Further inside the studio – designed by the internationally renowned firm Yabu Pushelberg – is a patient lounge, private bathroom and dressing room. Soothing scents permeate the air, and soft strains of music play in the background. Kimonos and slippers are provided. There is even a private area for patients to spit and rinse.

The crowning glory is a single dentist’s chair surrounded by every conceivable tool Dr. Philips needs to perform his work. In that chair, a patient can watch television or movies on DVD with the aid of earphones and a headset, listen to music or watch the doctor in action on the television screen. The single chair means the dentist sees only one patient at a time. "We see two patients a day," says Ms. Sabo. "You’re either the morning patient or the afternoon patient. While you’re here, the clinic is yours. It’s your time." When it comes to the aesthetics of the smile, Dr. Philips’ philosophy stems from his early work in the craniofacial department at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There, he worked with a group of specialists – including speech pathologists, oral surgeons and ear, nose and throat doctors – to treat children with congenital facial abnormalities. The team approach gave Dr. Philips a new perspective on the smile.

"It gave me a new way of looking at the face," he says. "My focus wasn’t simply the teeth or the mouth, but the way they interact with the entire face. That’s the approach I bring to my work now. Cosmetic dentistry triggers a potential change in the overall appearance."

Until recently, however, there were no proper terms to describe the aesthetic properties of the smile. Dismayed by this lack of lingo, Dr. Philips created his own language. He is responsible for classifying smile "types" and for creating a seven-point set of clinical "smile principles" to describe the elements of a perfect smile.

Most people – about 67% – have commissure smiles, where the corners of the mouth first pull- upward and outward. The lips then contract to show the upper teeth. Think Courtney Cox or Elizabeth Taylor. About one-third of smilers have cuspid grins, where the top lip goes up to expose the canine teeth. Drew Barrymore and Tom Cruise are both cuspid smilers. Dr. Philips says that is what gives them a slightly mysterious look. Rarest of all is the complex smile – hello, Julia Roberts and Marilyn Monroe – where the upper and lower lips contract at the same time to reveal a full set of pearly whites.

The smile principles are based on the principle of design known as the golden section, established by the ancient Greeks and found repeatedly in nature’s own perfect proportions: the spiral of a seashell, the whorl of a sunflower’s centre. It comes set of mathematical relationships, says Dr. Philips. For example, we should see no more than three millimetres of gum tissue in a smile. The two front teeth should be symmetrical, and their width should be 80% of their height.

Having the means to accurately describe and classify smiles eliminates guesswork, as well as some of the doubt that can plague new clients. Every consultation at the studio begins, therefore, with a quick crash course in the language of smiles. Ms. Sabo snaps a Polaroid, identifies the client’s smiling style and goes through the seven principles using a series of before and after photographs of other patients. The wall behind her desk is taken up with such photos, organized into dozens of binders with titles such as "Gummy Smiles," "Untwisting Teeth:’ "Inverted Smiles" and "Moving Spaces".

By identifying their own smile types and understanding the smile principles, Dr. Philips says patients better understand why he makes the recommendations he does, and what is possible.

"I can measure your front teeth, do the calculations and tell you by exactly how much I should lengthen or widen them, or how much gum to cut away so that they conform to the golden section:’ Just seeing the before and after pictures was enough to convince Debbie Thornton, 38, that she had come to the right place. "Seeing is believing," says Ms. Thornton, "Going for the consultation was a great education. You get a realistic sense of your smile. You might go in thinking you want to look like this movie star or that one, but it might not work. I can’t say I want Julia Roberts’ teeth when I don’t have her smile type".

Ms. Thornton was unhappy with the "gumminess" of her smile, as well as the heavy veneers that a previous dentist had affixed, making her teeth feel thick and cumbersome. Over a series of visits to the studio, Dr. Philips performed a gingivectomy to trim away excess gum tissue, and replaced the heavier veneers with thinner, more natural-looking porcelain ones. He also whitened Ms. Thornton’s bottom teeth to match the shade of the new veneers.

Her new smile, says Ms. Thornton, was the motivation she needed to make other changes to her body. After having two children, the former professional volleyball player and bodybuilder had abandoned her workout routine and healthy eating habits. The "smile lift" kicked off a three- month diet and exercise program that has dramatically altered her body. Muscles ripple where once there was flab. A bright, toothy smile shines. Most important, Ms. Thornton says, the new smile has given her more confidence.

"I’m happier now," she says. "Just doing it made me feel a lot better. Before I had my teeth fixed, I used to cover my mouth with my hand because I was embarrassed. Now I have a real big smile".