Non-Sense & Sensibility: Distorting Smile Aesthetics in the Frenzied Social Media Age

by Shadi Samawi

“Give them Quality. That’s the best kind of advertising.” ~ Milton Hershey

Let’s put it out there bluntly: We are distorting the aesthetic sense of the public, plain and simple!

And by “we” I mean “us”, dental professionals who are supposedly the custodians and guardians of people’s smiles and oral health. The public today is under constant bombardment by images of so-called “smile makeovers” a lot of which are  sub-standard, to say the least,  and often without justification, under the guise of a laughable marketing term; The Hollywood Smile. Sadly, this seems to be especially true here in the Middle East. How this “One smile fits all” notion started can probably be traced back to the rise of social media and its associated online marketing several years back!

Many have “jumped on the bandwagon” to utilize the power and reach of social media to promote their practices, however many others appear to have jumped onto “the horse” itself, somehow convinced that literally applying every single “Guerrilla Marketing” tactic they have ever read in a marketing best seller book, is the right thing to do for a dental practice. What they are forgetting – or ignoring – is that our profession – and the medical field in general –  is not a product-based business but a service-based one, and more importantly a health-based medical service that has its own set of ethics and rules that put our patient’s health and safety above everything else. It cannot – and should not – be marketed in exactly the same way as a fast food chain or a fashion brand.

Call me old-fashioned, but the basis for building a dental practice and reputation these days seems to have shifted from being a scientifically-sound and technically-skilled dentist who puts his/her patient’s health and safety first and foremost, to being the star of our own social media show, with those infamous “Hollywood Smile” ads of unjustified – and often horribly-fabricated – smile makeovers ! and where “Likes” start to count as a measure of a practitioner’s ability!  Science, objectivity and even good taste and aesthetic sensibility have gone out of the window, it seems!… So-called marketing “gurus” would tell you that we are all selling our selves and our services, so we have to go about it this way – of course, that is their job and how they make a living after all! –  however they fail to mention – or probably even fail to realize – that as medical professionals we are not and shouldn’t be concerned with convincing patients to go for this or that treatment as soon as they get through the door, but rather to give them our honest expert opinion regarding their health problems and do that with utmost professionalism and dignity thus ultimately helping them solve their problems. It is my firm belief that we promote ourselves not by convincing but by helping, giving sound advice, and treating to the best of our abilities when it is indicated to do so.

When did the word “conservative” get thrown out of dental terminology?!

I’m not personally against marketing your practice per se. In fact, I had created my first practice website almost 8 years ago even before Facebook and other social media outlets were available to the public, but have always tried to the best of my ability to maintain a professional image and avoided superfluous over-the-top claims of various treatment modalities that we offered at our center. There are, of course, many professionals out there handling and marketing themselves professionally and with much needed scientific objectivity,  However, for the most part, it seems the whole idea of online marketing has changed dramatically to the extent that what is being publicized, and how it’s being publicized is actually now re-enforcing unhealthy behaviors and changing perceptions of both newly-graduated dental practitioners as well as the public.

There’s no better example than the current veneers craze, where it seems that veneers have become the solution to almost every problem patients have these days! The notion that “Snow-white Chiclets Smiles” are the way to go for everyone is laughable, to say the least, but many patients still come to you with photos of smiles similar to a wind-up denture toy and request “beautiful white teeth just like these!”!!.. How was such work allowed to pass through all the way  from the lab technicians into the patients’ mouths and how the patients themselves accept these  bright  and often oddly-shaped objects over their natural teeth is really beyond me!!.. the only explanation is that they – somehow – have started to see it as the norm!.. Please don’t get me wrong: veneers have always been a perfectly acceptable and needed treatment modality but only in specific situations and with many contra-indications to be filtered off the checklist before choosing them as a treatment of choice, but it seems this is no longer the case anymore; Multidisciplinary thinking and proper treatment planning are taking second seat to “quick fixes” that are not scientifically – nor aesthetically – justified in many cases. These aesthetic travesties are seeping into the public’s consciousness, leading many to believe that if dentists are doing this to everyone and showing it off then it must be the right thing!

Toy Denture

Is this the “ideal” we’re aiming for?!.. because we are actually getting very close!

  • Have some discolored class III composite fillings on your front teeth? No problem, let’s slap on 6 or 8 anterior veneers!…
  • Have mal-aligned and rotated front teeth?.. No need to refer and seek an orthodontist’s opinion; just trim away and slap on a few veneers!… oh, and they will need RCTs first by the way!
  • Not really satisfied with the average shade of your front teeth? let’s change them to a chalky white blocky shape with some veneers, a la Hollywood Smile style (It doesn’t matter if there’s gingival inflammation, recession or bad OH!)…
  • Have a slightly chipped-off incisal edge?.. Veneers to the rescue!.. and make them extra-white please!

“But that’s what the patients want!”.. I hear you say. Well, my answer is this:

Dentists go to dental school for – at least – five years for a reason. The public doesn’t have access to the privileged knowledge that we as dental professionals have. They come to us for professional opinion and guidance, requesting our professional expertise and making their decisions based on that feedback. That’s our role for which we have studied and trained so many years to be able to do. If we are only to follow every patient’s blind request without consideration to their overall dental health and other existing issues, then we might as well not go to Dental School at all and just do what everybody thinks they need or orders us to do!… We should be educating and guiding our patients, not the other way round. Yes, we should listen to their concerns and be guided by those, of course, but ultimately they have put their trust in us to provide them with the right advice and solutions to their problems that are in their best long-term interest, not in our best short-term interest.

Instead of thinking: How can this patient’s problem be solved?…we’re thinking: How can “I” solve this patient’s problem?.. and there’s a big difference between these two ways of thinking.

This has been one long rant, but that is – sadly – the Reality Distortion Field of the current frenzied social media scene, and hopefully, that “bubble” will eventually burst , like many over-hyped bubbles before it, so forgive me for not joining the circus!…