BRACE FACE

06.04.14

The New World of Anti-Aging Dentistry

Worth an estimated $11 billion, the plastic surgery market has medical professionals scrambling for a piece of the vanity pie. The newest group to enter the ring: dentists.

The human face is made up of the most expensive bits of real estate in the world. In the U.S. during 2012, 14 million plastic surgery procedures were performed to the tune of about 11 billion dollars.

This number included not just face lifts (126,000 procedures), nose jobs (243,000), eyelid fixer-uppers (204,000), and Botox (6.1 million and counting) but non-face work like breast augmentation (286,000 but down 7 percent from 2011) and liposuction (202,000 and also down).

This week, with the release of a new book titled Anti-Aging Dentistry by a self-declared “celebrity cosmetic dentist,” there seems to be a new front-runner in the fight for the plastics empire—dentists. 

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Even with body parts taken off ledger, there is undeniably a lot of dough in plastics. With this much money in the game—almost all of it transacted on a cash-and-carry basis—it’s no wonder that so many in the medical profession are working overtime to get their rightful share of the vanity pie. Because the best part of the vanity market is not its worth in today’s currency, it’s the evergreen nature. After all, today’s wrinkled patient is next decade’s re-wrinkled patient, ditto the heavy lids, not to mention the planned obsolescence of the Botox injection which loses its grip every 4 to 6 months and cries out for a re-do.

Plus it is clear that plastic surgery is a gateway drug for those both so inclined and so well-heeled. The guy who gets the teen nose-nip goes for the eyelid-tuck a few decades later and then a wrinkle correction in his 60s and so on. It is in every way a perfect way to make a living, if you don’t mind wasting your education and your life on something with absolutely no moral worth. 

It is no wonder then that the plastic surgeons (who train seven years) are in a dogfight to keep their pre-eminence in the provider marketplace. They have lots of competition: general surgeons (who train five years) and GPs (some with just a year of training), especially in small under-doctored towns, are happy to touch a little Botox here and there. Neurologists too, increasingly comfortable with a syringe-full of botulinum toxin A to treat migraines or muscle spasm, also might venture a little cosmetic shpritz when few are looking. And dermatologists, who sort of own the space anyhow.

Then there are the ear-nose-and-throat surgeons (also five years training) who have been working the same territory all this time removing nasal polyps and adenoids and earwax. They saw the light years ago and now many do a healthy nip-and-tuck business, especially on noses. Plus they sculpt and inject and their waiting rooms don’t seem as much like French boudoirs.

Our feeble attempts to push back the Grim Reaper only sharpen its cruel bite, not dull it. All that stretched skin reminds us of our frailty, our approaching expiration date when all that will remain of us will be bones—and our teeth.

Furthermore, many other non-surgical doctors, sniffing greenbacks, are taking courses from reputable-seeming concerns with crowded websites that suggest serious if not overwhelming amounts of hard work are ongoing. These programs give already-licensed non-surgeons the tools to inject and sculpt and all the rest, without having to touch a scalpel. Even I could learn how.

All of the above will have to make room for the latest professional group to stake a claim on that well-turned bottom third of the face: dentists. Your teeth live there too—remember? They are on the flip side of business of course, pushing out your lips, keeping your cheeks smooth and dramatic, lighting the room on the rare moments when you smile.

But surely they are integral to the face: just look at the daguerreotypes of 19th-century pioneers, their dour faces full of wrinkles and sunken cheeks, braving a gummy grimace for the new-fangled camera. Think they wouldn’t spend their complete net worth as well as that of their entire God-forsaken Kansas hometown to brighten their chops and improve their self-confidence? You bet they would!

The nascent field even has a name, “Anti-Aging [sic] Dentistry” and a leader of the dental pack who works in Beverly Hills natch (sorry—no hyperlink for those with drooping molars or a lusterless smile), writes books, and has a PR agent. He bravely promises to “deliver life-changing results” to those with deep enough pockets to freshen up and stop aging. After all, a feller is only as dentally unfit as he feels.

To all this sort of malarkey, I say Caveat emptor. But with this modest suggestion: don’t. Don’t have your mouth veneered or your crow’s feet smoothed or your tummy tucked. Yes, it is your right to spend your dough as you see fit. It’s the basic capitalistic premise that has served the country so well. But—not to be a Debbie Downer here—your death and my death are inevitable. Our feeble attempts to push back the Grim Reaper only sharpen its cruel bite, not dull it. All that stretched skin reminds us of our frailty, our approaching expiration date when all that will remain of us will be bones—and our teeth. On second thought, maybe I will contact that cosmetic dentist.