Behind That Smile

A SMILE is such a powerful expression that it has thousands of quotes in many different languages portraying how important it is in our lives.

We live in a competitive world where, like it or not, we are often judged by our appearance, which is unfortunately superficial but cannot be ignored. In school we are always told not to judge a book by its cover, but people do it every day as we live in a society where looking good heavily impacts how we are perceived. And often that first step determines whether you get in the door.

What Do People Notice?

So, does flashing your pearly whites make a difference in your life?

Surveys over the past few years have shown that 40% of people notice your smile first when they meet you, compared to only 15% who care about your weight.

And for all that effort you put into primping your crowning glory, just 9% bother about your hair. A recent survey showed that 70% of Americans would be more likely to trust someone with a nice smile. As human nature has some degree of commonality across cultures and races in a globalised world, this is likely to be the case elsewhere, too.

Your smile has a lot more effect on what others perceive about you than you think. Many adults are worried about how their teeth and smile might affect their chances for employment or progression in this very competitive job market. More often than not, the first impression is crucial.

Studies have indicated that lasting impressions are made within the first three seconds of seeing someone and 40% of the time they will notice your smile first.

At a job interview, it would be a huge plus if you have better teeth than other candidates as most people, including bosses, are more likely to remember attractive features than those they find to be unpleasant. If a person walks into a job interview with discoloured, broken, crooked or missing teeth, he or she may loose out to an applicant who may not necessarily be more qualified, but conveys a more professional appearance.

How do we develop this biased view of other’s teeth? From a very young age it would seem. Children’s fairy tales  often portray the bad guys  with yellow and crooked teeth, sometimes with a missing tooth thrown in for good measure. The wicked witch would be another example of this stereotyping. The intellectually challenged characters are often similarly given buck teeth in many children’s story books.

Subconsciously, the message driven home is that people with straight teeth are perceived to be successful and smarter. So, while having straight white teeth may not guarantee you success, it does offer you an advantage.

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Working On That Smile

New technologies in dentistry have tremendously enhanced patient comfort and the predictability of treatments to improve your smile. The teeth form just one part of the equation; there are many supporting structures for example lips, muscle and bone that are involved.

I always believe in holistic dentistry. My philosophy is that the most important aspect is never about the procedure, the focus should be the patient.

So, what can be done to enhance one’s smile?

teeth whiteningPearly Whites

Whitening of teeth has never been easier and safer. In-office or home whitening systems are continuously improving for comfort and efficiency.

Unfortunately some inadequately trained beauticians are performing this procedure without realising that whitening should only be done after a detailed check-up to make sure there are no active dental problems present like infection or decay, which will cause unnecessary pain and distress. The failure to mention that existing fillings cannot be whitened also leave many disappointed with the results at the beauty salons.

And since reputable whitening systems can only be officially sold to a dentist by law, we have to really ask ourselves what exactly are the beauticians using then?


Titanium dental implants have been around for longer than most would imagine. The first one was placed in 1965, and technology has improved leaps and bounds over the years. Today, dental implants are the number one choice to replace missing teeth.

Old school dentures have taken up a supporting role instead of a definitive solution. With better reliability, techniques and aesthetics, we have successfully replaced teeth in areas that were previously deemed impossible. But like everything in life there are still situations where dental Implants are not appropriate. In Singapore, dental implants are gaining popularity partially due to the fact that some of the cost can be recovered under the Central Provident Fund’s  Medisave scheme.

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The dental implant replaces a natural tooth using the original jaw bone for support. Currently, titanium is deemed the ideal and safest material available due to the proven ability to integrate with bone and its long track record.

Many years of research and development are required to make an implant that will work in the harsh environment of the oral cavity. There are many extreme factors in play here — the implant has to withstand every single type of diet from acidic, hard, sharp, sticky, cold and hot coupled with the fact that it is always bathed in saliva and millions of bacteria, plus having to cope with the constant repeating 90kg bite force round the clock. Sounds like every engineer’s nightmare to create something that will work consistently in this unforgiving setting.

I constantly offer my patients the choice of different implants and most updated information; to me education is the key to making an informed decision.

I foresee in the next 20–30 years we can probably commercially grow new natural teeth in a lab and transfer it to the mouth. With the rapid advancements in genetic engineering the possibilities are endless.

dental crownsCrowning Glory

Dentists have been using ceramic crowns and veneers to correct and repair gaps, teeth discolouration, and broken teeth for many years. The introduction of new materials and techniques have been able to bring aesthetics to a level where is it challenging to differentiate between a crown and a natural tooth.

Mild alignment problems are best treated with braces but due to the time required some patients are searching for quick fixes. Minor misalignment of the teeth can be treated with ceramic veneers and crowns, the results are dazzling and instantaneous, but one must always be reminded of wear and tear issues.

I must emphasise that prudent planning is crucial to prevent irreversible teeth damage and avoidable pain.

dental bracesBrace For It

For adults, aesthetic braces are the best way to upgrade your smile and conceal the process at the same time. There are numerous types of aesthetic braces with various elements: non-metallic braces, lingual braces (braces at the back of the teeth) and clear aligners.

Non-metallic braces are made from either ceramic or crystal. Paired with white coated metal wires, it is mostly unnoticed unless you are up close and personal. Tom Cruise used them.

The lingual braces system that we use is made from gold. It is one of the most advanced and comfortable systems due to the use of computerised planning and customisation of the braces. It is completely invisible unless you open your mouth really wide. Prince William wore them.

Thanks to zealous marketing campaigns, Invisalign has become a household name for clear aligners. These are made of specialised plastic material and they are removable. Many patients are attracted to clear aligners as they are able to take them off for events and occasions. It is mostly inconspicuous to the general public. Justin Bieber is a fan.


Not everyone is born with perfectly even gums. An irregular gum line in the front teeth is very obvious. With the development of laser in dentistry, we are able to recontour and level out the gums in a relatively simple procedure with minimal discomfort. It is definitely the easiest and fastest approach to improving your smile.
Which brings me to reflect upon an anonymous quote — “A smile takes but a moment, but the memory of it lasts forever”.

So be sure to put the best one forward.

Dr Kevin Co is Clinical Director of TLC Dental Centre Singapore

This article was originally published in STORM in 2014.

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