Smartphone selfies don’t tell the ‘tooth’ about your smile say dentists

Posted on the 21 April 2016 at 10:30

A London based dental clinic, the London Smile Clinic, has seen a 30% rise in patients wanting cosmetic dental treatment so that they look better in ‘selfies’.

The trend, or craze, for taking selfies, the ubiquitous photographs or self-portraits that you can take of yourself using the camera in-built in a smartphone, has led to many people being preoccupied with their appearance and a driving them towards cosmetic enhancement of their face and teeth.

The increase in selfie taking, which usually follows with loading them to social media platforms, is not just driving demand for teeth whitening and other cosmetic dental work, but according to the London Smile Clinic, the unique photographic features of these close-up images have in effect changed the types of smile patients are asking for when they visit for cosmetic dentistry treatments.

The problem is that the selfie is not a great image in itself. Your face looks like it does when you’re looking into the back of a spoon and your teeth look horsey, or your smile is all gummy. The selfie in fact distorts the look of teeth, meaning many people are contacting dental practices and cosmetic clinics for treatment when it’s not needed, with many having to be dissuaded from their pursuit of radical treatment.

As selfies become the most popular way of appraising one’s own looks – even regularly used in lieu of compact makeup mirrors – the quest for the previous generation of blinding ‘piano key’ grins of infamous reality TV stars and American newsreaders; which might look good on telly but cartoonish under a zoom; has fallen by the wayside.

The new ‘selfie smile’ sought by patients is a novel aesthetic that benefits, rather than suffers, at the hands of the typically centre-widening, periphery-narrowing properties of smartphone cameras. Whereas before a youthful appearance may have been previously involved seeking larger teeth (as not worn down with age), this look is now shunned even by those who naturally have a white and even smile; as arm’s length photos make large front teeth appear equine and those that are slightly protruding, even more so.

 Photo of teeth by selfie

Selfie photograph

 Photo of teeth not taken by selfie

Non-selfie photograph – photo taken from further away and zoomed in.

Tim Bradstock-Smith, Clinical Director and Cosmetic Dentist at the London Smile Clinic has recorded a dramatic increase in the number of people with complaints specific to selfies.

He says; “The problem with a selfie is that the picture is taken quite closely, so the image can be distorted. Teeth often look more protruding than they are in real life and appear ‘horse-like’, which can also be emphasised by the unflattering light of the flash. As teeth are at the centre of the image, people are increasingly, and understandingly, driven to make them look nicer. Whilst these photos will undeniably exaggerate defects, they can also be misleading. We have seen a 30% rise over 5 years in the number of patients sending in selfies through the website with concerns about the look of their front teeth, yet when the patients come in person, often the teeth don’t look too bad at all. We dissuade approximately 2-3 patients now each week from treatment and for many others will recommend simple alignment of front teeth with clear aligners instead of major intervention work– and we now even offer tips on taking better photos!

To take the best selfie, it is suggested that you either use a selfie stick to achieve that extra distance or extend your arm as far as possible but use judicious zooming on the screen. However, for those with problems that cannot be filtered away, Tim has tailored treatments to help achieve the new ‘selfie smile’ aesthetic.

He explains:

It’s always been thought that the two front teeth look good being a little more dominant with a step in length between these and the next two. It creates a ‘smile curve’ and it’s a highly aesthetic, natural, feminine, youthful appearance. However, if your selfies are taken too close it can be distorted and exaggerate the size of the two front teeth. We will take some undistorted photos to see what’s really going on before diving into treatment but selfies have caused an increase in demand for a reduction in this natural dominance of the front two teeth. If someone has very mild crowding of the front teeth this can also make the teeth look really wonky in a distorted selfie. In this instance however we don’t recommend waiting for things to get worse. Teeth move throughout life and mild crowding always worsens, often causing uneven wear and gum health problems that can be expensive to sort out later. So we do recommend early intervention to straighten and then retain crowded teeth to improve aesthetics and avoid long-term problems.

Another issue raised by many is that they feel the smile looks too gummy in selfies. If this is a genuine problem, rather than just a distorted photo, I tend to look at the pink-to-white ratio –the pink can be exaggerated in a selfie. Possible solutions, depending on the size and shape of the teeth can include gum lifts and gum contouring.

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