What nice teeth the Democrats have!

What nice teeth the Democrats have!

What nice teeth the Democrats have!

Answers to your questions about the news.
July 9 2004 6:38 PM

How the Dems Got Such Nice Teeth

Could you get an equally campaign-worthy smile?

Say "Cheese!"
Say "Cheese!"

John Kerry and John Edwards have excellent teeth. Big, bright, white: Each tooth is an ivory treasure, perfectly polished and aligned. Will those teeth make a difference in this too-close-to-predict election? Kerry probably thinks so, since he is touting the beauty advantage that he and Edwards have over the incumbents. (During his first campaign swing with Edwards on Wednesday, Kerry trotted out his "We've got better hair" joke three times.) The truth, of course, is that Bush or Cheney or anyone else can get teeth that perfect—if they're willing to invest the time and money. How?

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There are a few options. The best-known approach is whitening, in which a chemical compound lightens the color of your teeth. Over-the-counter treatments abound, but whitening done by a dentist is the most effective. Dentists use a peroxide gel to bleach teeth white; the gel can be applied at the dentist's office in an hour or at your home over the course of two or three weeks. Doing it at home costs less (several hundred dollars versus nearly $1,000) but requires wearing custom-fitted molds filled with gel for several hours a day. Dentists can whiten faster at their offices by using a special laser or light to speed the bleaching process. The over-the-counter options, which range from "whitening toothpastes" to Crest's adhesive "whitestrips," rely on lower concentrations of the chemicals dentists use and are thus less effective. They can be useful, however, in maintaining professionally whitened teeth.

But for those desperate to match the Democratic ticket's high-wattage smiles, simple whitening will not be enough. For truly flawless teeth, the best option is porcelain veneers. Veneers, which have been popularized recently by reality shows such as ABC's Extreme Makeover and MTV's I Want a Famous Face, have been popular among A-list celebrities for some time. The process is simple: Extremely thin porcelain shells are cemented onto yellowed or chipped teeth, changing their color and shape. First, a half-millimeter of the original tooth is buffed away to allow room for the veneer. Then in a follow-up appointment, the shell itself is cemented into place. The shade of the veneer can be adjusted before installation by selecting different colors of cement. The cost? From $750 to $2,000 per tooth.

So did Kerry and Edwards have help achieving those perfect smiles? Through spokespeople, both said no. Apparently, some people are just lucky.

Explainer thanks the Academy of General Dentistry.

Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.