Everyone Is Suddenly Getting Smile Makeovers

But the new trend in veneers isn't what you'd expect.

After over a year of living the majority of life online, you probably have a script for when you join Zoom meetings. Mine includes making a joke about being tired of looking at my face during calls.

As many of us spent more time than usual inspecting our forehead wrinkles or sagging neck, dermatologists across the U.S. experienced a surge in patients booking non-invasive cosmetic procedures to tighten, sculpt, and fill the parts of the face that make you look older on Zoom.

But the "Zoom Boom" doesn't stop at the lips. We've also had a more up-close-and-personal view of our teeth, coffee stains, snaggletooth, chips, and all. And as a result, people are flocking to cosmetic dentists to get full porcelain veneers for a complete smile makeover. According to market reports, the global cosmetic dentistry market size was estimated at $6.9 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $19.5 billion in 2021. Almost 40% of the market share comes from North America. The desire for a "perfect smile" even made its way to TikTok, with teens using nail files to shave down their teeth (a dangerous trend dentists do not recommend).

Michael Apa, DDS, is a top New York City-based aesthetic dentist with additional offices in L.A. and Dubai. Celebrities and high-profile patients travel from around the world for his smile makeovers (which he completes under NDAs), and he's experienced the pandemic-veneers demand firsthand. Dr. Apa's L.A. office has seen a 65% increase in appointments from February 2020 to February 2021, and all three of his offices are currently booked through June 2021.

When his office was temporarily closed in March 2020, Dr. Apa began sharing video content about veneers on Instagram as a way to inform his followers about what exactly goes into a smile overhaul, and shifted to virtual consultations for the first time so that patients were ready to go into the office once quarantine restrictions were lifted. Dr. Apa says he was sometimes doing seven to 10 consultations a day.

If the word "veneers" conjures images of blindly white smiles full of "chiclet" teeth, the pandemic-inspired quest for the perfect smile probably isn't what you think. In 2021, many people want to keep gaps and slightly misshaped teeth, which were once considered imperfections — but they want the protection against discoloration and low-maintenance upkeep of veneers, too. Think of the results like wearing a neutral lipstick: The new veneers look is like your teeth but better.

The desire for an enhanced but natural-looking smile isn't exclusive to the U.S. Dr. Lisa Creaven, co-founder of Spotlight Oral Care and practicing dentist in Ireland, has experienced the shift, too.

"What I see is a huge change and move toward individuality that I couldn't be happier about. That old-school version of ear-to-ear veneers is outdated, and in the UK we are seeing a lot of people having that work removed and going back to a more natural, bespoke look," Dr. Creaven says.

This shift follows the beauty industry as a whole which for decades has been moving away from dated beauty standards, and instead, celebrating and embracing individuality. The acne- and body-positivity movements are other examples of rethinking what is a "flaw" versus someone's unique look.

And it's no wonder that making aesthetic changes that hew toward the real you — which includes an understated set of veneers — can actually be healthy for your self-esteem. "This trend towards authenticity and embracing imperfections seems like a healthy shift towards self-acceptance," says Dr. Logan Jones, NYC-based psychologist and founder of Clarity Therapy NYC. "It's important to celebrate and embrace the things that make us unique. Even if someone's smile doesn't initially fit into what is conventionally marketed to us as attractive, there is beauty to be found in each of us."

Along with the shift in societal standards, Dr. Apa chalks this trend up to the public being more informed (thanks to the power of the internet) about just how customizable veneers can be, with results varying based on each individual's facial structure and lifestyle.

"A person's face is obviously individual to themselves, on top of how a person ages is individual to themselves. It's social habits, upbringing, diet, and environment," Dr. Apa tells InStyle. "There are so many factors that determine how you are going to look from the time you're 18 until the time you're 50." He says when people ask for teeth that turn back the clock, "[What] they might mean is, 'I don't want perfectly straight teeth.'"

So when he's crafting veneers for a patient, he likes to see the progression of how they have aged and then he works on reversing that, at least in the smile department.

"What you're really going for when you're doing someone's teeth well, is recapturing their youth. A lot of people in their 50s will say, 'I used to have beautiful teeth,' and they'll literally say, 'I lost my smile.' I've heard that phrase 500 times," he says.

This includes factoring any natural signs of aging like a change in soft tissue or anti-aging cosmetic procedures such as Botox, fillers, or face lifts. "Both can change the structure, and then all of a sudden your teeth are static and hard, and the soft tissue is changing, and it may not show the same," Dr. Apa explains. "It's because the lip is going down, whether they have fillers or just lost the tonicity of their skin."

Simply creating a symmetrical smile on an asymmetrical face will result in that fake "Hollywood" look. Instead, these patients are getting veneers that work with their facial structures to create a smile that's the best version of themselves. "If you look at the facial structure and the asymmetries, and you build the teeth parallel or harmonious to those asymmetries, it makes the smile asymmetrical, but it's symmetrical to the big picture," says Dr. Apa. "That's when people, in my opinion, look beautiful, harmonious and refreshed."

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The most obvious reason for a boom in smile makeovers is that we could all use a smile these days. "Smiling is welcoming and makes people feel safe and loved, which in turn naturally draws people to us," says Dr. Jones. "Smiling represents joy and love and we could all do a little more to bring love, and hope, and joy in today's dark world."

With vaccines becoming readily available and the CDC loosening face mask guidelines going into summer 2021, people want to get back to some semblance of "normal" life — and that includes being able to smile confidently when their masks come off.

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