Smiling On

New advances are making cosmetic dentistry more attractive to baby boomers hoping to maintain their teeth for a lifetime.

A Growing number of patients who come to Dr. John Heimke for cosmetic dental work are well over 40 years of age. That may seem insignificant at first glance, but the owner of Facial Aesthetic Designers in Rocky River knows better.

He explains that, as a whole, baby boomers are the first generation of Americans to maintain their smile into their golden years. And, unlike their parents, they have no intention of going through retirement with stained, worn and broken teeth.

"If you look old, you're probably going to feel old," Heimke says. "If you feel fresh and invigorated, you're going to live longer. That's good mentally and physically."

Heimke's observations mirror two trends revealed by a 2011 State of the Cosmetic Dentistry Industry survey conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Eighty percent of all participating dental practices cited the baby boomer generation as an "extremely important" or "important" factor in driving demand at their practices, while 97 percent identified "appearance" as a patient's top concern when deciding on a cosmetic dentistry procedure.

To achieve that look-good-feel-good goal, dentists have a number of restorative options made all the more attractive by improvements in technology and technique. In fact, 78 percent of 2011 American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry survey respondents rated "improved cosmetic materials" as an extremely important or important issue driving cosmetic dentistry business.

Gone are the crowns, bridges and partial dentures of porcelain fused over metal — a construction that yielded restorations with metal edges and an unappealing opacity, according to Dr. Scott Rose of the Center for Aesthetic & Restorative Dentistry in Solon.

"A lot of times," he says, "the teeth would look very dead."

The base structures are now being made of zirconia, a ceramic with durability he compares to that of space shuttle tiles. The advance is particularly critical in replacing the all-important front teeth.

Like 42 percent of American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry survey participants, Rocky River dentist Dr. Anthony Heibili has seen an increase in revenue generated by implants — in his case, mini-implants. For traditional implants, titanium-alloy posts are placed in the jawbone during a surgical procedure requiring a four- to six-month recovery before crowns can be mounted. But these thinner, "mini" counterparts are inserted like screws and topped with porcelain restorations in a single office visit. Healing time is reduced to a day, and the cost is cut by approximately a third.

"They can replace single teeth, multiple teeth, even a whole mouth of teeth," Heibili says. "They can be used to secure dentures as well."

He adds that implants act like tooth roots by anchoring restorations to the jaw and also preserve bone, which in turn prevents "the collapsed look."

Heimke points out that one in five people over the age of 50 are missing all of their front or bottom teeth. He says continued improvements in full upper and lower dentures have made them a more viable alternative among those patients for whom implants are not an option, either because of a lack of funds or bone quality needed to support them. These cosmetic dentures are created using the same principles applied to restoring a mouth with veneers, crowns and implants.

"We're even able to custom stain the gums," Heimke says. "People are very, very pleased."

Dr. Gino DiGiannantonio of Refresh Dental in Willoughby Hills says implants are often used with other restorations — namely, porcelain veneers applied to the fronts of healthy, if not attractive, existing teeth — to achieve what he calls "the extreme smile makeover."

Regardless of the restorative options patients choose, DiGiannantonio says, they all have one thing in common: an increasingly natural shade of white.

"Porcelain-white teeth are gone," he says. "That trend was too extreme, too fake."


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