Getting the perfect smile

Saturday November 24 2012

By CAROL ODERO [email protected]

A week ago an invite to attend the Aesthetic Dentistry Seminar courtesy of Karen Hospital landed on my desk. It was so unexpected I simply had to attend.

The topic of discussion was Unraveling Aesthetic Dentistry Reconstructive Surgery. Yes, it is quite a mouthful.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have certainly, prior to this seminar, been expecting my teeth to slog along, perform full throttle without considering them to be anything fundamentally unique. They are just teeth after all. Or so I thought.

Not to Dr Catherine Wachira, chief resident dentist at Karen Hospital. Smiles, she points out, are the first thing people notice about us. “A smile matters because it is what shows people that we are confident, it opens doors to jobs – certain careers actually depend on how attractive your smile is – it makes friends and it completes a polished and professional look.”

Obie Trice agrees. His track Got Some Teeth is incredibly silly but he proves an often overlooked point not just for partners but for anyone who cares about looks, which is pretty much everyone.

We pay little attention to teeth. Makeover shows don’t, however. Teeth are the first thing they work on. Have you ever noticed how celebrities have such perfect smiles?

Great dentistry is the equivalent of Mother Nature playing fairy godmother. It looks natural. The first line of aesthetic defence with teeth is almost always whiteness. Sparkly, pearly white teeth are connected to youthfulness.

Tea (and this includes herbal tea), coffee, wine, cigarettes and sodas are lifestyle choices that stain your teeth and dull your smile over time. These can be easily treated through bleaching, best done under dental supervision.

Dr Wachira advocates use of bleaching gams, available from the dentist, that you wear overnight over your teeth. It whitens your teeth within a fortnight. You begin to notice the difference in three days and, in two weeks, there will be a dramatic change.

Not all stains can be bleached away. Only the external ones can. The other kind of stain is fluorosis, experienced by quite a number of Kenyan who drink borehole water. Fluorosis does not only erode the enamel, it turns brown.

To take care of this Dr Wachira advises veneers, a process that requires the abrasion of the surface layer of the tooth.

“We would take off about 0.4mm and replace is with a masking process,” she says. Veneers are so Hollywood; even, perfect and white. They also have the added benefit of lasting years, cutting down on the number of bleaching sessions you will have to undergo.

If you have acne and have been on tetracycline for years, or a dermatologist has just prescribed it to you, discuss the potential damage it might cause to your teeth. Tetracycline can cause discolouration over time and affect the integrity of your enamel.

Veneers are tooth capping are usually confused and it is easy to see why. Sometimes accidents happen. We fall, have a automobile accident, bite into something or stop a fist. Who knows. The result is, your tooth gets knocked out.

Dr Wachira admits to once having a patient who stuck her own teeth back with super glue. Don’t do that. Have a custom-made crown installed. If you broke part of a tooth a dentist can restore it and let’s be honest here – sometimes it might just look better than the original!

Crowns are an excellent idea for a weak tooth or one that is discoloured, decaying, misshapen. If you are a Lil’ Wayne wanna-be and visualising a blinged-up smile, don’t.

“Not only will you not get an employer to take you seriously, you would be seriously compromising a sound tooth structure,” advises Dr Wachira. You have been warned.

For deeper work that goes beyond pure aesthetics, an orthodontist and/or dental surgeon can take it further. The orthodontist prescribes braces for adults and children. Dr Mwirigi Kaaria is such.

“It takes time to straighten teeth – 10 to 24 months, depending on the complexity. You have to start with children while they are young because adult teeth are formed when one is a child.”

Dr Kaaria’s specialty is aligning teeth. Ideally, he says, we have a very slight overbite. When our top and bottom teeth touch the front teeth should come forward slightly and the lower teeth back.

For adults, Invisalign, a set of near-invisible dental braces are the preferred form of correction. If your work is gum-deep, Dr Matthew Akama, maxillofacial surgeon, can install your teeth with titanium and create a new crown.

Dr Akama says “dental implants preserve your facial structure and stops bone and tissue loss,” advising that this is far better than a set of dentures.

Aside from the physically beautiful aspect of it, titanium implants are just like teeth allowing you to enjoy taste and flavor as well as the experience of chewing in a way that dentures will not.

Like every other consultation, ask your dentist questions. Surgery, for instance, will not take on smokers, diabetics or people undergoing cancer treatment or has bad oral hygiene.

And what is good oral hygiene, you ask? A beautiful smile mathematically adds up to six minutes a day: two minutes brushing every morning, two minutes brushing every evening, two minutes flossing every evening.

Visiting the dentist once every six months for a check-up and clean-up.