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That Perfect Smile – Vanity Revives Dental Industry

Monday, 15 August 2005 12:00 AM

Not so long ago and far away on this planet, dentistry was a dying industry. Lots of guys with hairy arms and wristwatches with little to do but drill and fill cavities. And these holes decreased in number as we added fluoride to the water and toothpaste. Compounding this dilemma was the fact that insurance companies didn't like the idea of paying very much or at all.

But then someone realized that the smile was something people noted as soon as the more traditional commercially significant parts obsessed on by patients and corrected by the plastic surgeons. All of a sudden everyone had to have teeth that were perfectly aligned, well designed and then whiter and brighter. Chicklets in poetry and motion.

Dentistry became the new vanity industry. General dentists overnight magically metamorphosed into cosmetic dentists.

And thus dentistry solved both of its problems at once. There was instantly lots to do, prices rose dramatically, and people paid for it themselves, thus allowing the dentists to avoid the insurance hassle. Sadly, it's a fact of life that the American patient will pay far more and complain less for cosmetic treatment than for life-saving medical or surgical treatment.

Dental ads soon appeared in every dentistry and county throwaway magazine for bonding, veneers, crowns, two-hour "power" whitening and invisalign orthodontia. You, too, can look like a star. Just look at these before-and-after mugs!

Have you noted in the society pages that all of the well-heeled party persons posing for photos have the same open-mouth upper-teeth smile? That's because a favorite procedure of the cosmetic dentists is the snapping on of six to eight upper veneers. At $2,000 a pop, the socialites want to show off those upper beauties and thus have trained themselves to lift that upper lip and hold it.

Demand for dental products in the U.S. is forecast to rise nearly five percent annually, to $7.9 billion in 2008, requiring a variety of raw materials such as chemicals, polymers, metals and minerals. In 2003, professional dental products accounted for 56 percent of total dental product demand while the consumer segment accounted for 44 percent.

No matter how bad your smile or teeth, the tooth-fairy docs, as promoted by the TV shows "Extreme Makeover" and "The Swan," can put you back together again.

For those clients who don't have the necessary megabucks, you can practically do it yourself at home with all the new OTC products. Have you visited your local drugstore dental section lately? It used to be toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss. Now the number of products smacks the senses and recoils the retina.

Thousands of products from dozens of brands of all sizes, shapes, colors, stripes, ingredients, materials and design including brushes, paste, floss, ultrasonic cleaners, electronic brushes, curved and rounded tongue scrapers, mouthwashes, whiteners, brightners, anti-plaque solutions, cool mint power pack oral care strips, enamel restorers, age defyers and gum stimulators. There are whitening strips, different peroxide gels, 15-minute, one-hour, two-hour, 24-hour and two-week whiteners. You can add the rest after you visit the basketball-sized aisles.

But last week we saw products that really scared us and should terrify home dentists. Metal picks, probes, scalers and resins to fix your own cavities and materials to seal your own crowns.

Thankfully, there were no drills and no lasers to cure bonding materials – yet. But some entrepreneur will eventually adapt a home drill to a fine dental drill bit. For a laser you can sit out in the sun at noon. There are no home X-ray units now, but you can ask your cat to walk around you three times for a cost-controlled CAT scan.

For those who like the safety, efficacy and savings of do-it-yourself home health care, we plan, in the next few weeks, to look at some products in development. These include OTC drugstore kits for face lifts, liposuction, tummy tucks and breast implants. Next year we hope to comment on OTC home kits for colonoscopy, pacemaker implantation and organ transplantation.

Take good care of yourself. In this era of expensive out-of-pocket cosmetic care and thrifty managed care, you have no other choice! But do spend the $10,000 to $20,000 on new teeth. You'll look better, eat less so as not to scratch the veneer, and ultimately save on the medical and surgical costs of obesity.


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Not so long ago and far away on this planet, dentistry was a dying industry. Lots of guys with hairy arms and wristwatches with little to do but drill and fill cavities. And these holes decreased in number as we added fluoride to the water and toothpaste. Compounding...
Monday, 15 August 2005 12:00 AM
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