Smile (with Teeth)!

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Grins are back — are your teeth ready?

FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS we didn’t see the lower half of people’s faces. We weren’t able to offer that awkward half-smile when passing someone on the street or in the hall, and the only time we saw extended family, friends, classmates and coworkers was when we also saw ourselves reflected in the Zoom window display. This has caused a sea change, or maybe a “see” change. 

“A lot of people are being a little bit more proactive about correcting things like crowding, discolored teeth, and that sort of thing, because they really were seeing it on a more regular basis than just their photos or smiling in the mirror after they brush their teeth in the morning,” says Dr. Stephanie Sweeney of Savannah Dental.

While I haven’t experienced this personally, I do know someone close to me who has — my mom, Konnadi Dhatnubia. A transit contract specialist who began her new job in the middle of the pandemic, she would spend 30 minutes before a meeting in the Zoom preview screen, adjusting the way she sat to minimize exposure of her teeth’s imperfections. “I would watch people’s faces, like, ‘OK, when I’m talking, are their eyes looking where my eyes are, or are they looking toward my mouth?’” she recalls. Seeing herself on video was one of many factors that played a significant role in her decision to overcome her odontophobia and begin her dental rejuvenation journey.

When the pandemic began, Dhatnubia was grateful for the mask. Behind it, she was able to hide her imperfections and fully be herself with complete strangers. However, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hide behind the mask forever. This revelation, as well as the onset of severe tooth and mouth pain, motivated her to finally set a date for her initial consultation. “[During] the very first appointment, I was just very, very emotional. I cried during the whole orientation. I was shook,” she says. The news was ultimately good, though, and her dental issues were not as bad as what she had anticipated. “That’s why I was able to start the process,” she says.

“After having half of our faces covered up for so long, people are thinking, ‘Now that people are really seeing me again, I want them to see a different version of me — a better version of me.” — Dr. Stephanie Sweeney, Savannah Dental

She felt assured in her decision because lockdown limited the amount of her household’s recreational spending (which can get expensive as a wife and mother of five). This allowed her to save quite a bit and use those extra funds for the three root canals she needed. Sweeney saw comparable situations with her own patients. “I had a lot of patients just mention in general that their travel plans were canceled,” she says. “They would mention it, like, ‘Well, since I’m not going to Europe, and I’ve been wanting to get Invisalign for a while, I think that we should just do that.’” Similarly, Dr. Jenni Moseley at Beyond Exceptional Dentistry found that although the pandemic upended many aspects of life, the demand for a better-looking smile remained intact. “After the lockdown period, the level of dentistry we offer continued unaffected,” Moseley says. 

Whether it was because of canceled travel plans, overcoming past fears, or seeing an unwelcome reflection in a Zoom screen, Dhatnubia and Sweeney agree that masks made us realize how important smiles are. For Dhatnubia, a smile means confidence, friendliness and joy. “People would say that you could tell by someone’s eyes if they’re smiling, but I don’t think you could tell that from everyone,” she says. “If you’re smiling really big, then yeah, but if you’re just doing a smile of ‘Hey, it’s okay to [pass] my direction,’ you really wouldn’t be able to tell by someone’s eyes.” 

With loosening mask mandates, more and more smiles will be on display again. From Invisalign and teeth whitening to veneers and dental lasers, which can stimulate collagen production for naturally fuller lips, the demand for cosmetic dentistry will likely continue, says Sweeney, particularly because she doesn’t see the use of Zoom diminishing any time soon. “After having half of our faces covered up for so long, people are thinking, ‘Now that people are really seeing me again, I want them to see a different version of me,’” she says, “a better version of me.’”