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Beautiful Smiles by Design

By Dr. Stephen R. Snow

This article is endorsed by the
American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Beautiful Smiles by Design.

English novelist Charles Reade once observed, “Beauty is power; a smile is its sword.” Indeed, our ability to smile is one of the most profound non-verbal communication skills we humans have. A smile is universally recognized and identically interpreted by every culture on the face of the earth. Smiling exerts a positive influence on our personal and professional relationships — and some researchers believe it positively impacts our physical and mental health. Public opinion polls confirm that nearly 90% of adults feel that an attractive smile is an important social and career asset.

Yet, despite widespread agreement regarding the power and importance of a smile, many people are insecure with their own. Though the specific reasons may vary, the end result is the same: many people look in the mirror and they do not see an inviting smile they expect reflected back.

Cosmetic dentistry can completely correct or significantly diminish these perceptions through a comprehensive approach known as Smile Design. Through both traditional and emerging dental techniques, the cosmetic dentist works in partnership with the patient to produce a new smile — one that the person will readily share with others with a new sense of confidence and esteem.

What Is An Ideal Smile?

Some might ask why tinker with what nature has created. A person's smile is as unique to them as their fingerprints — it defines who they are. Who, then, is to say what a “normal” smile really is? Who can accurately judge when it is deficient? Who can decide what should be changed?

When considering the possibility of smile enhancement, cosmetic dentists must carefully evaluate these valid points. We learn all too quickly what society deems attractive by observing how people respond to their surroundings and their peers. We can't help but notice how some fashion choices, body shapes, hair styles, and even smiles are greeted with more acceptance than others. We naturally seek to emulate these appearance preferences to maximize our own sense of purpose and peace of mind.

Couple smiling.

More than just socially and culturally, however, these perceptions are rooted in very real biological and physiological conditions. One reason we prize sparkling white teeth, for example, is because healthy, disease-free teeth are likely to be free of the discoloration of decay. By the same token, a full mouth of straight teeth isn't just attractive, it is a sign of a fully-functioning masticatory system. Only a few centuries ago, a person with few or no teeth faced very real health dangers — even the possibility of starvation. While that scenario may seem extreme in our modern-day, industrialized society, the echoes of the past remain. Our perceptions of what is beautiful and desirable are steeped in an instinctual understanding of health and survival.

In the end, the ability to distinguish an “ideal” smile rests in the emotional experience a person has when looking in the mirror — it is both individual and personal. The mission of the cosmetic dentist is to help each person integrate their subjective cultural perceptions of beauty and perceived preferences with the reality of an objective diagnosis and practical treatment possibilities.

Envisioning The Future

Author Lewis Carroll once wrote, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Author Laurence J. Peter quipped, “If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” These may be cynical witticisms, but they actually contain profound wisdom for anyone considering cosmetic enhancement.

Smile design requires much more than a patient specifically requesting a popular procedure or even generally saying, “Make my smile beautiful.” Like any other worthwhile undertaking, it necessitates forethought and planning. Effective planning begins with an extensive, thought-provoking discussion between patient and dentist. Therefore, the patient and the dentist should begin with the end in mind.

The first priority is to gain an understanding of the patient's perceptions. To appreciate a patient's concerns, the dentist will often start the discussion with a few key questions. How do you feel about your teeth? What do you like, and what do you dislike? If you could change anything you wanted, what would it be? Thinking ahead several years, what do you want for the future? These questions take direct aim at the heart of the issue — the patient's concerns and priorities. As a patient openly and honestly shares the answers, an insightful clinician can discern the patient's insecurities and desired visualized outcome.

It can be fun too, a chance to stretch the imagination and picture the ideal result. A little dreaming is always the heart of any great plan process, even the creation of a new smile. With the destination firmly in mind, the patient and dentist can take the next step in charting the course to reach it.