Avoiding Dental Perfection With a Slight Twist
Darcy Padilla for The New York Times
SMILE SHOPPING At Laura Kelly’s dental studio in San Ramon, Calif., a patient has a range of options for veneers.
By ANNA JANE GROSSMAN
Published: August 27, 2008
RAMY GAFNI, a makeup artist in Manhattan, used to have snow white, straight veneers.
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Darcy Padilla for The New York Times
He hated them. “They were too perfect,” Mr. Gafni said. “My nickname in college was Lite-Brite.” As a child, Lite-Brite’s natural teeth had grown in with gray striations, a result of antibiotics he had taken. So when he turned 21, he covered the offending teeth with veneers — wafer-thin pieces of porcelain that are bonded atop filed-down teeth.
Two years ago at 40, Mr. Gafni decided it was time to trade in his flawless teeth for veneers that look natural, but not flawless.
Rebecca Trachtenberg, a nurse practitioner in San Francisco, also asked her dentist to make her veneers subtly less than perfect. “I didn’t want them too white, so he graded them so they get darker as they go back,” said Ms. Trachtenberg, 31. “I also didn’t want them too symmetrical.”
Veneer placements are the third-most-performed cosmetic dental procedure in the nation, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, a nonprofit organization with 8,000 dental-industry members.
The veneerification of American mouths is most noticeable on reality television makeover shows, where new sets of straight, gleaming white teeth are often showcased. Nationwide, veneers have been so widely embraced that our smiles are becoming as indistinguishable as so many Starbucks.
Such uniformity isn’t every veneer seeker’s cup of tea. Lately, an influx of patients who want each fake tooth to be unique have visited the laboratory of Laura Kelly, a dental ceramicist in San Ramon, Calif., to discuss the shading and shaping of the veneers she designs. “Patients in the lab?” she said. “It never would’ve happened five years ago. In the beginning of veneers, people wanted teeth all white and straight.” Now, she explained, they’re requesting more translucency on the edges and a gradation of color from the top to the bottom, a slight rotation in the tooth and a rounded corner.
Dr. Jeff Golub-Evans, a dentist on the Upper East Side, encourages patients to allow him to slightly rotate a tooth, or to vary the length of teeth. “What I’ve found is that if someone has perfectly symmetrical features and you put perfectly symmetrical teeth on that face, you ruin their face,” he said.
Roughly a third of Dr. Golub-Evans’ clients, however, still ask for teeth that are as big, as white and as straight as possible.
“The trend towards those thick, perfect-looking teeth started out because celebrities were getting them because they look good on camera,” said Gretta Monahan, a host on the upcoming season of “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style.” “Normal people then took pictures of those teeth to their dentists and saying, ‘I want that.’ For a long time if you had an overbite or a space, you wouldn’t want to duplicate that with veneers.”
Indeed. There was a poignant moment on a recent season of “America’s Next Top Model” when two finalists were told to get veneers. Joanie had a snaggletooth that she was eager to get rid of; Danielle, the subsequent winner, welled up just thinking about parting with her gap à la Lauren Hutton, but she eventually agreed to have it reduced. “I had to suck it up, bite my lip, and get my gap closed as much as I don’t want to,” she said on the show.
Dr. Jonathan Levine, a dentist on Fifth Avenue, has encouraged many patients to keep their gaps, but most of his patients choose subtler so-called flaws (if they want any at all). “They can have ‘clean healthy natural,’ which is like Sarah Jessica Parker,” he said. “Her smile has some imperfection — little rotations, a side tooth that’s subtly set back, a little wear at the edge of the tooth and color that isn’t that bright. More like the color people went for 10 years ago before the whitening craze.”
Or they can copy Mariska Hargitay’s smile: “white but with perfect imperfections,” he said.
But even Ms. Parker or Ms. Hargitay most likely will look lousy in the wee hours, no matter how great their teeth are by day. Why? Many dentists say that taking care of veneers means wearing a mouth guard overnight. Every night.
Talk about imperfection.