Given that us Brits are famed for our bad teeth it’ll come as no surprise that in the UK we’re often behind our US counterparts when it comes to dental care and treatment trends. It turns out that this general national reticence to leap in the dentist’s chair could also be having an effect on how quick we are to turn to aesthetic treatments such as injectables and how we approach looking our best as we age, as cosmetic dentist (and resident dental expert for Channel 4’s 10 Years Younger) Dr Uchenna Okoye explains:
“While I was working in the States I noticed that when patients were interested in or seeking out aesthetic facial treatments, they were more often than not advised to see their dentist as a first port of call. In the US it’s customary to address the health and look of the teeth as a first line treatment before any non-invasive or surgical cosmetic facial procedures.”
Exactly how do teeth tie into enhancing the appearance of your lips, skin and face in the way that fillers, injectables or other aesthetic treatments might?
“The teeth and jaw are the ‘frame’ of our face, or the scaffolding if you will. You can look at the upper half of the face and not necessarily know how old someone is, but it’s the lower third of the face that can be most telling of age. It’s for this reason that dentistry and aesthetic dermatology work best when approached holistically - you might be convinced that you “need” fillers, but actually dental treatment might be more suitable, effective and produce the most natural-looking result.”
Clearly cosmetic dental treatments can be as costly and involve as much downtime as aesthetic treatments, but according to those in the know turning to your dentist before an aesthetic specialist or surgeon could not only help you to achieve the kind of lift and plumpness that cosmetic facial procedures promise, but also the end-result can be more long-lasting and subtle and even help to preserve the health of your teeth. Here are a few dental tweaks and treatments that can make all the difference in terms of addressing visible signs of ageing.
The one treatment everyone can consider
Dr Okoye thinks that we often underestimate the importance of going back to ‘brasics’:
“If I were to suggest one dental treatment to lift the face it would be braces. This may sound old-fashioned but hear me out. Just as our collagen levels deplete in our skin as we get older, so our teeth begin to collapse inwards, which ‘shrinks’ our mouth and results in a loss of volume in the lower face.
“Braces are brilliant as they help to counteract this by widening the smile while also straightening teeth, adding structure and support to your mouth and reducing the appearance of sagging. Another advantage is that results are permanent.”
You can cast all visions of teenage train tracks out of your mind too...
“If you’re concerned about looking a bit ‘Ugly Betty’ while wearing braces, you needn’t be, as dental technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Options such as Invisalign invisible braces are now some of the most popular treatments in my practice - they’re unobtrusive and barely discernible to others yet achieve impressive results over time.”
If you can’t afford to invest in the likes of Invisalign (prices fall between £2500-£5500) Dr Okoye recommends another likely familiar piece of teeth kit that can help to slow down the natural inversion of teeth with age:
“If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s and noticing that your teeth are moving inwards and making your lower face look more hollow, ask your dentist about the possibility of using a retainer. Worn overnight it will help to keep your teeth aligned and in place and it can be brilliant as a preventative measure alongside good oral hygiene and regular appointments with your dentist.”
One area in which Dr Okoye reckons that Brits are more ahead of the game in terms of dental treatments is our attitude and patience when it comes to achieving natural-looking, healthy results - according to Dr Okoye we’re more likely to favour long-term dental plans, while our Stateside cousins are keener to see instant results. The advantage of our stoic approach is that treatments such as invisible braces, which typically take anywhere between six to eighteen months to work, require minimal downtime and intervention after treatment, plus, as above, the straightening and lifting effects are generally permanent, although a little regression is always possible with age.
How dentistry can make lips look plumper
If lip fillers or a lip lift appeal, there are dentistry alternatives that could look less ‘done’ and boost the health of your teeth over time too. Dr Okoye outlines one much discussed cosmetic dental treatment that often gets a bad rap, but can have both aesthetic and health benefits when performed correctly:
“Porcelain veneers get sneered at due to shows such as TOWIE, and while the drilling associated with veneers can cause damage when in the wrong hands, when expertly carried out veneers can have transformative effects in terms of cosmetic appeal and shielding teeth from damage over time.”
So what do veneers have on the likes of plumping lip treatments?
“Our teeth, like our skin, become thinner with age, and as a result our lips can move inwards. By adding volume to the outer surface of the teeth, the lip can lift naturally as it has a supportive structure behind it. This can result in plumper looking lips- I’d say it can boost appearance of fullness by 25 per cent in the average case and it looks natural too, so any additional lip filler may be unnecessary. The slight elevation of the lips can also help to soften fine lines around the mouth.”
That’s the potential cosmetic pros covered but from a wear and tear point of view veneers can bring additional benefits:
“Veneers are essentially a way of laminating the teeth and this can be protective if you’re a bit older in particular as it shields the enamel once it starts to be eroded. While enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, you can’t reverse this particular ageing process as your body can’t reproduce enamel, so veneers act as a stand-in for your natural enamel.”
Veneers are sculpted to your teeth and also help to address staining or crookedness, but it's vital that any veneers applied harmonize with the colour and shape of the rest of your teeth. While they can be prepared and applied over the course of a few appointments, straightening and lifting effects won’t last as long as treatments such as braces (20 years max is considered to be the lifespan of veneers) and porcelain veneers can cost between £500-£1000 per tooth. Cue sharp intake of breath. All in all, they're also not something to be rushed into.
If veneers are out of your price range or not right for you, Dr Okoye cites composite bonding as an aesthetic alternative. It’s a one step treatment where a bonding material is painted onto teeth and hardened using a special frequency light before being polished and smoothed. Like porcelain veneers, the treatment can address everything from the colour and shape of teeth but it’s not as durable and more prone to chipping and staining. You can expect composite bonding to last up to five years and prices roughly start from £150 per tooth.
The misnomer of being “long in the tooth”
Being long in the tooth is suggestive of old age from an idiomatic perspective, but the opposite is true in dental terms according to Dr Okoye:
“Longer teeth actually look more youthful - apparently a length of 11mm is the ‘sweet spot’ but it completely depends on the natural shape and size of your teeth and your bone structure. You can lengthen teeth artificially with aesthetic treatments such as veneers and bonding and teeth whitening can be very effective for making teeth look longer and more pronounced in the face too. As the skin between your nose and top lip descends with age due to collagen loss, it’s often common that you can’t see your top teeth when you talk or smile, so lengthening the teeth and making top teeth more visible helps to reverse this somewhat.”
It’s not just your front teeth that can become less visible with age either according to celebrity dentist Dr Richard Marques :
“Over time the back teeth can move inwards and many people have a narrow arch shape. When we look at the smile from the front there is a “black corridor” as you do not see the back teeth. By reshaping the arch using straightening or veneers you can widen the smile which then supports the cheeks and gives a much fuller smile.”
Dr Marques dubs treatments such as this as ‘the dental facelift’, as straightening teeth can help to support the cheeks and deliver an overall lifting effect that never looks ‘fake’. Don’t underestimate the cost and time involved, however, as straightening procedures can take over a year to complete in complex cases and cost thousands of pounds, and while the effects of teeth whitening can be instant, it’s vital to seek treatment from an experienced, highly trained and licensed dental professional. High street teeth whitening is not only illegal but it will set you back hundreds of pounds and could permanently damage your health, not just your teeth. Like injectables flogged in hair salons, it’s not worth it, from every perspective.
Just as bonding and veneers can give the impression of ‘more teeth’, so ‘more gums’ make for a healthier, younger-looking mouth according to Dr Okoye:
“Keeping gums strong and healthy is so important as we age because our gums keep our teeth in place and prevent bacteria from growing in our mouth, all of which contributes to the cosmetic impact of teeth too. As we get older our gums shrink so a degree of recession is normal, and some people are genetically predisposed to gum recession, but there’s lots you can do to slow down the process and even press pause on gum shrinkage.
“I recommend using an electric toothbrush to thoroughly clean teeth and avoid some of the scrubbing that can occur with manual brushing. Ensure that you have an efficient, gentle technique . It’s also really important not to overbrush - you don’t need to brush teeth after every meal (twice a day is ideal). Think of it like skincare - if you scrub your face aggressively and wash it too often, it will become dry and more prone to damage and fine lines. The same is true of teeth in terms of gum recession. A morning wash followed by a nice double cleanse at the end of the day will do for skin, and brushing twice a day is perfect for maintaining optimum teeth and gum health.”
Flossing once a day is also essential for maintaining ‘young gums’. Aside from the usual (boring but effective) routine, you may be surprised to learn that gum ‘filler’ is a thing:
“It’s possible to use hyaluronic acid based filler in the gums and it can help to prevent early gum loss in some cases. The effect is instant but a gum ‘filler’ would last less time in the mouth than dermal fillers in the face as your mouth is so active - you’re talking, eating and brushing every day, so it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t a long lasting fix.”
Hyaluronic acid filler treatments in the gums generally start at £300 but don’t even go there unless you’re under the care of a very experienced dentist licenced to perform the treatment - it carries far more risk than dermal fillers (and these already have their fair share of possible side-effects) as gums are very delicate and have a strong blood supply, meaning that the health implications should treatment go wrong could include poisoning, tooth loss and an exacerbation of gum recession. Going old-skool in the gum care department is likely a better bet and braces or orthodontic treatment could reap far better rewards in the long run.
The rise of the selfie smile
Just as celebrity and ‘selfie’ culture has contributed to a boom in aesthetic medicine, so our appearance-oriented environment has significantly affected developments in dentistry, as Dr Okoye underlines:
“The ‘selfie’ factor has impacted on dentistry to an enormous degree. It used to be that patients might come to me seeking teeth whitening or straighter teeth because a grandchild pointed them out or it was an issue that was very obvious and had been bothering them, but now I see patients coming to see me with incredibly specific “flaws”. I sometimes struggle to see them myself. We’re so used to zooming in and seeing ourselves up close and we’re noticing things we never would have previously that others probably don’t perceive when interacting with us face to face. It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing - it is what it is and it’s the modern world we live it, but it’s important to keep things in perspective and put the health of your teeth and body first.”
Not to mention the health of your mind: your smile is unique to you and fixating on supposed imperfections or feeling that you need to correct your teeth to quite literally fit in isn’t conducive to wellbeing of any kind. If you’re considering treatment, talk it over thoroughly with your dentist, and as is the case with dermal fillers, Botox and any aesthetic procedure ensure that you’re in expert hands and receiving honest advice that’s tailored to your needs.