The quest for pearly whites is not a new phenomenon, with records at the University Dental School and Hospital in Cork showing cosmetic dentistry began more than 100 years ago.
Women, in particular, were interested in the quality of the smile, with some electing to have their teeth replaced by white dentures before they got married.
Hospital dean Finbarr Allen said it was still the case that older patients with full dentures asked for white teeth when replacing them: “What we find now is that people who were rendered toothless back in those days and are having to have their dentures replaced always want their teeth to be white. They don’t want them to be what you might consider to be a natural colour for an older person”
Prof Allen, who hosted a celebration of the centenary of the Cork Dental School and Hospital over the weekend, said that, in the past, people would elect to have all of their teeth extracted, even if they only needed two or three to be removed.
“That was driven, in essence, by cosmetic requirements because if they did not like the look of their teeth, they would ask for all of them to be removed in the one go and have them replaced with white false teeth.”
Prof Allen also said there was no real change in the manufacture of dentures since the 1940s — they are still made from acrylic resin.
He also pointed out that in the late 1970s about 30% of the population of this country over the age of 18 had no natural teeth. “That’s a staggering statistic. But the situation is very different now, with just 6% of people having no natural teeth.”
Prof Allen said a lot of people would have had no natural teeth for a long time, having lost them when they were younger. “It was quite common for women living in rural areas to elect to have their teeth removed so they could have them replace with the white pearly teeth when they were getting married.”
The Cork Dental Hospital that has over 60,000 patient visits per year has found that the demand for dentistry over the past 10 years has grown substantially.
In particular, demand for treatment aimed at making teeth look better and for cosmetic dentistry has increased and older people are more likely to question their treatment and to ask for treatment to preserve their teeth.
Prof Allen: “They don’t just passively accept what a healthcare professional tells them any more. This is a fundamentally altered relationship between patient and healthcare professional and an indicator of the type of dentistry which will be practiced in future years. This includes a move away from removable dentures and an increasing demand for more complex forms of treatment aimed at retaining diseased teeth.”
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