The Myth Of The Perfect Smile

Recently on Toddlers And Tiaras, a mother bragged that she bleaches her kids' teeth once a week. Outrageous, but not surprising, since we've come to believe that teeth only look right when they are straight and blindingly white.

An orthodontist tells the Los Angeles Times that the job has changed. People used to simply want well-aligned teeth. "Now, people come in and want well-aligned, perfectly white teeth with beautiful digital contours; they want a beautiful smile, beautiful facial aesthetics," Dr. Mark Yanosky explains. He refers to "smile aesthetics." Advertisements, television shows and movies feature folks with super-straight, very white teeth, and celebrities flash flawless choppers on the red carpet. We see so many impeccably aligned completely untarnished teeth that we forget they are not normal. And the pearly whites on the silver screen are often the result of cosmetic dentistry. (Examples: Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise, Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate Beckinsale, and so on.)

We're so flooded with examples of not-normal perfect teeth that actual normal imperfect teeth seem grotesque somehow, even though they are very common, and could even be seen in movies about 30 years ago. And we're not just obsessed with aesthetics — color and straightness — we believe teeth inform us about personality. An upcoming report in the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics claims that when participants looked at faces with straight teeth and faces with crooked teeth, and were asked to rate the images on popularity, sports ability, leadership, and intelligence, "those with straight teeth were rated 10% higher than the faces with crooked teeth in all of the categories except for smarts." What benefit do straight teeth have in sports ability? It's all about perception. In other words, if your teeth are jacked up, your life must be, too.

You have to wonder, though — if pursuing a "perfect" smile leads to wide-spread artificial teeth, one day, as with breast implants and face-lifts, will we eventually grow sick of the fake stuff and long for a more natural look?

The Quest For The Perfect Smile [LA Times]