Is Your Smile Aging You? Try These Fast Teeth Fixes

Chips, cracks, stains, and other changes to your teeth can add years to your face. Learn how better teeth can help you look younger.

By Christine Fellingham
smile teeth white bright aging

Cosmetic Dentistry for Better Teeth

We all get obsessive about our skin, monitoring every incipient line, splotch, and hint of sagginess. But we don’t always give that kind of scrutiny to our teeth. "Our teeth age, just as our skin does," says Jeff Golub-Evans, DDS, of the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. "Most people don’t even notice the changes until you point them out in the dentist’s chair."

Fortunately, the signs of wear, tear, and time on your teeth can be much easier to reverse than the ones on your skin. "I have many patients who walk in thinking their next stop is the plastic surgeon’s office," says Michael Apa, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City, "and they find they can wait indefinitely." The trick is pinpointing the procedures that will make the biggest difference. Here, our beginner’s guide to improving your smile.

Age Change: Shorter Front Teeth

Why:Teeth wear down with use. "By the time you reach 40, the two upper front center teeth are as much as two millimeters shorter than they were in your 20s," Golub-Evans says.

How It Ages You:"When you smile and reveal little or no top teeth, you can look toothless," Golub-Evans says. "As your teeth shorten, they can also cause your lips to sag inward, creating a thin, tight-looking smile — instead of the fuller, softer look you have when you’re younger."

How to Fix It:Your dentist can elongate the front teeth slightly with bonding or, more dramatically, porcelain veneers. With bonding, tooth-colored material is applied and hand-sculpted to the teeth by the dentist. Veneers are thin porcelain jackets that cover the front of teeth. Whichever method they use, good dentists are adept at choosing colors that will complement those of your natural teeth. Teeth aren’t actually white; they’re slightly yellow with a tiny bit of blue just before the edge. "We’re using shades of white that have some blue and even yellow in them," notes Marty Zase, DMD, a dentist with an emphasis on cosmetic dentistry, in Colchester, Connecticut. "Natural is always more flattering than matte, stark white, which not only looks artificial, it’s like you’re trying too hard to look younger."

What It’s Like:"Bonding was a no-brainer," says a 44-year-old therapist from Wilton, New Hampshire. "After an hour and a half, I walked out with younger, whiter teeth." Veneers require two, sometimes three appointments, and one of them will be a bit grueling. "Your teeth have to be ground down," says Wendy Lewis, 48, a coauthor of America’s Cosmetic Doctors and Dentists. "When I had mine done, it didn’t hurt, but I was very aware of the temporaries, which also felt weird when I ran my tongue over them. Once the permanents were in, the end result was beautiful."

Caveats:If your dentist will be treating just the two front teeth, it’s important to ask about how their colors will look. "We can lighten what’s already there to make them blend or choose a natural shade for the cosmetic work," Zase says.

Age Change: Worn-Down Teeth

Why:Wear and tear smoothes and flattens tooth edges and surfaces.

How It Ages You:The tiny ripples at the bottom of your teeth, and the slight ridges on their surface, give your teeth dimension, character, and youthfulness. When they wear down, "your teeth look square, boxy, and unnatural," says Ada S. Cooper, DDS, a dentist in private practice in New York City.

How to Fix It:Most cosmetic dentists recommend veneers. "Porcelain veneers are created from a mold of your own teeth," says Zase, "so you can get a lot of the detail back."

What It’s Like:Depending on how many of your teeth you want to correct, you’ll sit through two and often three appointments lasting an hour to two hours each. But you’ll be able to correct most aesthetic concerns: color, position, shape, and texture.

Fix Crooked and Chipped Teeth

Age Change: Crooked Teeth

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