When you are considering cosmetic dentistry, you may come across information that sometimes refers to smile aesthetics and other information that refers to smile attractiveness. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different, and understanding the difference will help you understand what cosmetic dentistry can and can’t do for you.
It will also help you understand how to talk to your dentist about these issues so that you’ll get the best results.
Understanding Smile Aesthetics
Smile aesthetics are the characteristics of your smile that can be objectively verified, either by pictures or by other measurements. These are the ways that we might describe the appearance of your smile in technical terms to help us understand the current appearance of your smile and the desired appearance of your smile. Most of the time, people are concerned about one of these 10 characteristics:
Tooth color is probably the most common complaint that people have about the appearance of their teeth. Partly, it’s that we live in an age of teeth whitening and everyone wants to have whiter teeth. But it’s also partly that discolored teeth are a sign of age and possibly poor health.
Tooth size is another common complaint. Maybe you wish your teeth were larger. Maybe you wish they were smaller. You might want the relative size of your teeth changed, such as making the central incisors larger than the lateral incisors. Porcelain veneers are a great approach to enlarging teeth.
You might think your teeth are the right height, but maybe they’re not wide enough. Or maybe they are chipped and worn. Or maybe they’re too square. Tooth reshaping can be done with porcelain veneers, dental bonding, or, sometimes, by removing material from your teeth.
Your gums are supposed to help frame your teeth. You should show a small amount of gums when you smile. Maybe people are unhappy because they either show too much of their gums or too little. We can reshape your teeth and contour your gums to make sure your teeth and gums are proportionate in your smile.
Your lips, gums, and teeth work together to create the overall arc–or curve–of your smile. This curve is the area between your gum line and the biting edge of your teeth. Ideally, this curve should be largest in the middle and taper to the sides while rising slightly.
Cant is how dentists describe a tooth that is tilted. The tooth can be tilted inward or outward from the vertical. When teeth tilt in or out, it disrupts the appearance of your smile, and it can also make your bite less effective.
Rotated teeth are also a common cosmetic complaint. Both canted and rotated teeth can be corrected with orthodontics.
Teeth should be close enough together that there’s no visible space between them. But they should also be far enough apart that they’re not crowding together. Both crowding and spacing are common cosmetic complaints.
Unlike primitive humans, most modern people have a slight overbite. This is considered natural and normal, and when someone has a different bite configuration, it looks off, whether this is an edge-on-edge bite or an underbite. Of course, an overbite can also be too large, too.
The eye is constantly evaluating symmetry, and when it sees symmetry, the brain generally considers this more attractive. There’s a line of symmetry in your face that runs between your eyes, along the bridge of your nose, and all the way down to your chin. Your smile has to reflect this line of symmetry, so if your dental midline is off to one side, it can make your smile seem off.
The buccal corridor is revealed when you smile: it’s the visible space between your cheeks and your teeth, where your smile arc tapers to darkness. The buccal corridor should look full of teeth, but it shouldn’t look too crowded.
If you are unhappy with the appearance of your smile, we can evaluate all these various characteristics and compare them to a database of ideal or normal smiles and get a good idea about how best to alter the aesthetics of your smile. But that doesn’t always tell us whether that will improve the attractiveness of your smile.
What Is Attractiveness?
While aesthetics is an objective quality that we can measure and make definitive pronouncements about (such as, your lateral incisor is canted 10 degrees off the vertical), attractiveness isn’t. Attractiveness is a subjective quality that varies from person to person, with each one having their own particular standards that no one else may share. Attractiveness is deeply personal, and you may not agree with anyone else’s assessment of the attractiveness of your smile. You may even disagree with your cosmetic dentist.
Do Attractiveness and Aesthetics Agree?
Attractiveness and aesthetics usually have a lot of overlap, but they’re not exactly identical. When you come to our office with a complaint about the appearance of your smile, we can usually see what you’re talking about and measure the aesthetic property that is responsible for your complaint. We can then design a treatment that will alter the aesthetics. We can guarantee that we’ll achieve a particular aesthetic value for your smile as we agreed upon.
But that doesn’t always mean we’ll be able to make your smile attractive in your eyes. We will talk to you about the appearance of your smile, and try to translate your descriptions of attractiveness into measures of aesthetics. Once we’ve gotten aesthetic values for both your current smile and your desired smile, we’ll design a treatment plan that will achieve an aesthetic smile that hopefully you will think is attractive, too.