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No one ever really noticed the small gap in Peter Mitchell’s teeth, nor the tooth that twisted slightly inwards. But he noticed it, and it drove him crazy.
“It wasn’t ideal and that really got to me,” Mitchell, 35, says. “I always knew it was there.”
Mitchell’s teeth were more than just a superficial annoyance – they tarnished his confidence both socially and professionally, causing him to shy away in photos and refrain from speaking in front of crowds.
Peter Mitchell feels he is more confident presenting in front of a group at work since having his veneers inserted.Credit: Wayne Taylor
So, to transform his pearly whites from a source of shame to a source of pride, he turned to porcelain veneers.
The popularity of cosmetic dentistry has been steadily increasing with #veneers attracting over 3.9 billion views on TikTok and influencers like Gabi DeMartino and Tana Mongeau speaking openly about their “teeth journey” on social media.
Vice-chair of the Australian Dental Association’s oral health committee, Dr Gavin Quek, says dental professionals in Australia have recently observed growing demand for cosmetic dentistry procedures, including porcelain veneers. Quek attributes this largely to the advancement in technology and materials used for veneers, which has made them more accessible, as well as a cultural shift towards valuing an attractive smile.
Melbourne-based Smile Solutions – the first Australian clinic to introduce same-day veneers and where Mitchell had his inserted – has so far completed over 45,000 porcelain veneers and crowns, and noticed around a 40 per cent uplift each year in inquiries specific to cosmetic dentistry procedures over the past four or five years.
Founder Kia Pajouhesh says many Australians became acutely aware of what their teeth looked like during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when most were forced to look at themselves on video calls all day or were constantly walking past their bedroom mirrors.
“Australians in general are quite health and aesthetically minded individuals, and so they associate the aesthetics of a smile as something that relates directly back to their feelings of wellbeing and confidence,” Pajouhesh says.
When a person dislikes their teeth, which Pajouhesh notes are a focal point of the face, they usually draw back from a smile, which in turn changes their persona. “Those individuals are generally viewed as either shy, distant or snobby, when in reality it’s purely a confidence issue with their smile.”
Since getting veneers, Mitchell says he’s had strangers compliment him on his teeth and his confidence has improved. “I’ve recently taken on a bigger role at work and this has made me a bit more confident to stand up and speak in front of everyone instead of sitting in the shadows.”
Australian Pyschological Society president Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe echoes this, noting that smiling is an effective way to communicate and connect with others.
But the power behind a smile can lead some to feel significant pressure to have “perfect teeth”. Davis-McCabe says external sources like social media, where perfectionist attitudes and the tendency to compare oneself to others abound, fuel this. For young people in particular, influencers posting about their veneers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok can also have an impact.
“Anyone who is dissatisfied with their teeth may consider getting aesthetic treatments in the hope that this will alleviate their concerns. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be satisfied with the result,” she says.
And the confidence-boost does not come cheap. Pajouhesh says it would cost around $13,000 to $14,000 to get veneers for your top six teeth. People with private health insurance and extras coverage may shell out less. However, rebates vary depending on the limits of their plan.
Body image researcher and executive director at The Embrace Collective Dr Zali Yager says these kinds of costs have contributed to a divide within Australian dental care, which is closely tied to wealth.
“You only need to look at the teeth of all the monsters and villains on TV shows and movies to see why we associate having straight, white teeth with being good and of higher social class,” Yager says. “[It] has then gone one step further where people think they need to ‘fix’ their teeth in order to look professional.”
The hefty pricetag has seen some travel overseas to countries like Turkey to access cheaper procedures. This strategy has become so popular it now has its own hashtag, #TurkeyTeeth, which has a whopping 31.7 billion views on TikTok.
Some, however, embrace their dental “imperfections”. Celebrities and models like Madonna, Lara Stone and Georgia May Jagger don’t have the typical “Hollywood smile”, yet their teeth have become an appealing feature.
Georgia May Jagger is known in the modelling industry for the gap in her teeth.Credit: Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP
Pajouhesh says a small gap between the front teeth, slightly larger upper central teeth and mild crookedness of the lateral teeth have been deemed attractive over the past decade.
“The worst thing you can do with naturally beautiful teeth is to have them porcelain veneered and make them look like a set of piano keys,” he says, adding that he has occasionally reached out to certain influencers that have shown interest in veneers to dissuade them from the procedure, telling them their teeth have “perfect imperfections which make them unique”.
Quek adds that dentists may recommend alternative treatments, such as braces or professional teeth whitening, if they believe the relatively invasive veneers procedure could cause more harm than good.
“Patients with unrealistic expectations, limited tooth enamel, or bruxism (teeth grinding)
may not be suitable candidates for veneers,” Quek says. “Ultimately, the decision to proceed with porcelain veneers should be based on a comprehensive evaluation of each patient’s unique circumstances, considering both their aesthetic goals and oral health status.”
Yager says the more diversity in imagery we’re exposed to – including people with “less-than-perfect” teeth – the better it is for our body image, mental health and wellbeing.
“It’s not just up to the celebrities and models, it’s up to the brands and ad agencies that don’t insist on editing out imperfections. And it’s up to us to reflect on the messages we have received from all of these sources and make our own decisions about our own bodies. ”
But Ellie George, a 31-year-old from Caulfield who had veneers inserted at Smile Solutions, says it’s not necessarily as easy for non-celebrities to embrace imperfect teeth. “For celebrities, it’s a point of difference. For the everyday person, it makes you think their parents didn’t get them braces.”
Before getting her veneers, George says she had small, round teeth, as well as fairly large gaps along the top row. “My friends would call them pegs,” she says. Since the procedure, she says people are complimenting her non-stop.
“I believe Australians are becoming more conscious about having good teeth as it seems to be more readily available now,” she says. “And seeing reality show contestants get veneers, people can see it’s not just for the high-end celebrities or the rich.“
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