You can’t really overstate the power of a beautiful, healthy smile. And while what constitutes that goes so much deeper than aesthetics, there are some things you can do from a cosmetic dentistry perspective to enhance your smile – from your teeth to your lips to the harmony of the face as a whole. While even the highest quality dental work can’t compensate for a poor diet (here’s looking at you, sugary drinks) or bad oral hygiene (be honest, how often are you flossing?), there are a number of ways to achieve and maintain your best and most natural-looking smile with the help of the pros.
Recently, we hosted an Instagram Live with Anjali Rajpal, DMD, a cosmetic dentist and founder of Beverly Hills Dental Arts in Beverly Hills, CA, to learn more about how she designs ideal smiles for her patients and the innovative treatments and techniques she uses to create them. Watch the entire conversation below or read on for a breakdown.Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=234DDHZzFoE
1. Strive for Proportion, Not Perfection
In aesthetic medicine, we talk a lot about proportion and facial harmony – cosmetic dentistry is no different. “When I am designing a smile, I look at the shape of the face,” Dr. Rajpal says. While doing so, she is looking to determine how wide or long the teeth should be and how that relates to other facial features. “Not only do I have to look at the lines of the face with the eyes, the nose, the forehead, the middle of the face, we also look at the position of the lips,” she shares.
It’s proportion – not perfection – that you’re after. “A natural face will always have a bit of asymmetry,” Dr. Rajpal notes. And the same is true of the teeth you were born with. “Everything will have a slight amount of asymmetry, but it’s the beauty of that asymmetry that actually makes everything flow together and makes the smile look natural and beautiful,” she adds.
2. Look at Your Lips
Dr. Rajpal refers to the lips as the “frame” of the smile. “You want to make sure the upper teeth follow the curvature of the lower lip,” she explains. “Then we also see how the upper lip looks to make sure the lips are perfectly framing the teeth.” This examination is especially important for patients who get neurotoxin and filler injections in the lips and/or around the mouth. “Botox® and fillers are a great complement to whatever I’m doing, but everything needs to be in balance,” she emphasizes. “You don’t want to overdo it because then you will throw off the way the teeth look.”
As we’ve covered, over-injecting the lips can negatively change the smile. “If you do too much filler or too much Botox®, you might drop the lip down too much and then you actually won’t see any teeth,” Dr. Rajpal notes. Instead, she says you want to make sure you can “still see the edges of the teeth even when the lip is at rest” because “that means you have a youthful smile and you have a more proportionate length.” In theory, younger people have longer teeth because they have experienced less wear and tear. If time or teeth grinding have taken their toll, however, it is possible to add length so that you once again see the teeth when the lips are relaxed.
3. Position the Teeth First
What’s the best way to ensure your enhanced smile lasts for years to come? Properly aligning the teeth first. “My goal is to make sure the teeth are positioned in their best, most ideal, functional position, so that they last years and years and years,” Dr. Rajpal shares. The marriage of form and function is key. “I want to minimize any extra stress on the teeth,” she says. “In order to do that, I have to make sure all the teeth are perfectly in balance.”
As she explains, the upper teeth are supposed to fit over the lower teeth “like the lid of a box.” If they are resting on eachother or if the front teeth are taking on too much, orthodontics is going to be needed before any other treatment can be pursued. “I have patients who come to me ready to jump right into veneers, but their teeth are edge to edge,” Dr. Rajpal says. “I tell them that, if I do that, the veneers are going to break, and I won’t be able to make them the correct length.” Instead, she recommends “placing the teeth” with Invisalign® first. “So, yes, you will delay the veneer placement a little bit,” she admits. “But, in the long term, it’s such a smarter way to go.”
If you are compliant (meaning: you wear your trays for 22 hours a day as prescribed), Invisalign® can work its magic in as little as three or four months. In the case of patients who are working towards veneers, the benefits of Invisalign® are twofold. For starters, it will put the teeth “where they need to go” to reduce unnecessary stress on them and to allow your dentist to be more conserviative in preparing the veneers. “I don’t want to be trimming extra tooth structure if I don’t need to,” Dr. Rajpal notes.
The second (though no less important) benefit is how proper alignment improves oral health. “If you line your teeth up and put the veneers on, then – from the front and the back – everything is lined up and you can clean them perfectly,” Dr. Rajpal explains. “If you put veneers on while your teeth are still crowded, they might look beautiful from the front but – from the back – you still have crowding.” The risk? “You can develop cavities,” she cautions. “They are just bacteria traps.”
4. Don’t Dismiss Veneers
We can’t have a conversation about smile enhancement without talking about veneers, but, let’s be real, we’ve all got preconceived notions about the treatment. Dr. Rajpal admits there are a lot of misconceptions out there (we’ve debunked some of the most common). One she hears a lot: “People think I am going to have to cut down a ton of tooth structure,” she shares. “I think they oftentimes confuse a crown with a veneer.” While a dental crown wraps around the entire tooth, a veneer is a facing that covers the front and the edge of the tooth. As a result, “you only need to take off a tiny bit from the front and the edge,” Dr. Rajpal explains. “Almost your whole entire tooth is still there.”
Often, patients also have the idea that veneers have to look fake. When designed by an expert, that’s simply not true. “The cases that I do, I make sure that people do not know they just got veneers,” she says. “I don’t want their teeth to be blinding and attract all the attention.” In fact, they should blend right in. “The materials have changed so much throughout the years,” Dr. Rajpal explains. “You can incorporate characteristics into veneers such as shading, translucency, and texture.” This allows the veneer to look natural both IRL and in photographs.
In some cases, Dr. Rajpal adds just one veneer, and it’s virtually imperceptible. “I have been able to match it perfectly well with the rest of the teeth, and you can’t tell that it’s a veneer at all,” she says. “As long as we’re taking the steps to ensure we are incorporating the right shading properties and texture, there is no reason they need to look fake.”
5. Know Your Options
While veneers can be a game-changer, they are not for everyone. “My patients are really young, so some of them don’t want veneers because they feel like it’s just a little too premature,” Dr. Rajpal shares. “And I agree with them.” In cases where there is minimal wear and tear, a combination of Invisalign®, dental bonding, and teeth whitening can completely transform the mouth. “If they have a lot of healthy, solid tooth structure, they don’t have discoloration, and they don’t have a lot of decay, there’s basically no real reason for the veneers,” she says.
This is why it’s important to find a provider who specializes in smile enhancement. They will know how to use the array of modalities available in the most effective way, so that you see the best results in the shortest amount of time.
6. Remember: Good Oral Care Is Not Negotiable
So, you’ve invested the time and money in enhancing your smile. All of that work will be for naught if you don’t take the upkeep seriously. “You have to be here regularly for your cleanings and exams,” Dr. Rajpal shares. “If we lose touch with you and you’re building up all this bacteria, you’re much more prone to getting gum disease, getting cavities, all of that.” She likes to see her patients with veneers every three to four months for cleanings (in addition to an annual exam), and she will sometimes recommend a night guard as well to protect the dental work. “[Veneers] can generally last years and years, as long as you’re maintaining them really well,” she notes.
At home, brushing and flossing are the name of the game. “The mechanical motion of brushing and flossing is what you need to do to remove plaque from your teeth,” she explains. “The toothpaste is only so important – it’s more your brushing technique.” Both should be done at least twice a day, and people with certain gum conditions may benefit from adding a Waterpik or mouthwash to the mix. From there, “make sure your diet is very balanced so that your immune system is as strong as possible and so that you are less prone to wearing down your teeth and getting decay,” Dr. Rajpal says.
No matter what treatment protocol you choose, the goal of cosmetic dental treatments should be to make the smile look as natural as possible in the healthiest way possible. “I really am focused on making sure the teeth last well through the years whether I am doing bonding or veneers or Invisalign®,” Dr. Rajpal says. At the end of the day, Dr. Rajpal sees the job of cosmetic dentists this way: “I am here to help everyone look better and feel confident about their smile.”
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