You can get fat siphoned out of your midsection. You can tighten the skin on your face. You can augment your breasts, pectorals, even your behind. But nothing will take years off your appearance like a “smile lift,” or so says Dr. Guy M. Lewis, a cosmetic dentist catering to celebrities, socialites, Olympic athletes, and anyone else grin-challenged.

Did you know?
A “smile
lift” can cost up to $60,000.

Smile lift is the rather euphemistic name for what is more properly known as a smile overhaul, or perhaps a teardown/reconstruction of your oral real estate: porcelain veneers, crowns, custom-made dental implants, revolutionary whitening procedures, and whatever else it takes to return your aging mouth to its youthful splendor. “For a lot of people, their smile is their biggest hang-up, just like people who have a weight problem,” says Lewis, who practices in The Woodlands, explaining that as we age, our chins, noses, and mouths have a way of collapsing in on themselves, especially if our teeth have worn down over time. “You fix someone’s smile, and it’s like a butterfly out of a cocoon, man.” 

Ten years ago, a smile lift would not have been easy to come by, but today we are living in the golden age of cosmetic dentistry, according to the cosmetic dentists, although not only them. Advances in technology are turning practitioners into artists whose palette is, well, your palate. Sophisticated mapping equipment lets patients themselves design their ideal mouths, 3D printer–like molding machines allow dentists to create crowns and dental implants on the spot, and lasers can be used to define obtrusive gums. Factor in all the new whitening techniques, and the result, cosmetic dentists say, is a truly customized smile—not the overly whitened, generic look of the not-too-distant past. 

“Nowadays, everyone wants a Hollywood smile,” says Dr. David R. Chiu.  He’s a dentist at Dentiq Dentistry in Montrose, which offers a range of what he calls “smile design” options, from “Aggressive” and “Dominant,” staples among males hoping to communicate power with big, evenly cut teeth, to “Functional” and “Oval,” popular among women hoping to look younger (which apparently can be accomplished with sharper canines and more rounded teeth). “Dentistry has become so customized that we’re not just giving people some random tooth that’s not going to match the rest of their mouth.”

Chiu and his colleagues create crowns by first scanning your mouth with a wand that creates a digital impression. Software then creates a replacement part for missing or damaged teeth, and the virtual restoration is fed into a milling machine, which carves prosthetic teeth out of small blocks of solid porcelain, not unlike a 3D printer. The entire process can take place in as little as two hours. 

Chiu and Lewis are among a growing number of dentists (about 4,000 nationwide or 3.5 percent of dental professionals) using lasers for cosmetic purposes, such as shaping gums and whitening teeth. Unlike drills and scalpels, laser surgery is painless, allowing patients to forgo anesthesia entirely, in most cases. “Using lasers, we can contour gums and make teeth look longer,” says Lewis, calling the combination of short teeth and prominent gums “very distracting.” “We’re talking about taking off millimeters here, and that’s one of the main things that can make someone look 10 or 15 years younger.” An attractive option, indeed.

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