Embracing the train-tracks trend

TIME was when it was seriously uncool to be seen wearing braces when social etiquette dictated that they, like pregnant bellies and bra straps, should be kept out of sight.

Embracing the train-tracks trend

But those days are gone and now teens are hitting back, with fake train-tracks being the accessory of choice among those who believe they scream affluence, style and status.

These are three traits Niall Horan of boyband One Direction has in bucket-loads, so it was only fitting that his choice of braces was discreet, but not so discreet that they didn’t have their own Twitter account, or that their removal in recent weeks did not go unnoticed in destinations as far-flung as Sydney and Dubai.

While 16 months of brace-wearing led to the emergence of the Mullingar man as a pin-up for the orally challenged and the dentally fixated, it also led to a flurry of enquiries to Irish orthodontic and dental practices as to how best to acquire a winning smile just like his.

“We explain that while some can have their teeth straightened in six months, for others it takes two years,” says Orla McDonagh spokesperson for the Dublin-based Seapoint Clinic. She is well used to fielding questions about the teeth of celebrities such as Tom Cruise, George Clooney and Tulisa, with the Cheryl Cole smile most coveted by far.

To get teeth like Cheryl’s, a complete set of porcelain veneers costing around €15,000 could be required, but not everyone seeking the smile of their dreams goes down that route.

“I got six-month braces and had my teeth whitened,” says Orla. “That was all I needed to achieve the smile I wanted.”

Beautiful teeth are always an asset but for models and Seapoint Clinic clients, Georgia Salpa and Rosanna Davison, they are a requirement of the job. Georgia got two veneers and says they “made such a difference” and that she “absolutely loves” them. Rosanna says her reasons for undergoing teeth-whitening were personal and professional, adding: “I like to feel confident in my smile and to know that my teeth are looking their best no matter what I’m doing.”

But the gap between the haves and have-nots goes deeper than pearly-white superficiality, if researchers are to be believed, it impacts not only on romantic opportunity and marital success, but also on matters of life and death.

The flash of a beaming smile is a priceless asset for a woman on the hunt for a mate. Studies have found that while a woman who makes eye contact with a man in a bar will be approached 20% of the time, her success rate rises to 60% if she adds a smile to the equation.

While this revelation probably doesn’t take into account the woman’s charms, the man’s interest, or the existence or proximity of his wife, it shouldn’t be dismissed altogether, as it’s a tip any savvy woman might do well to remember while trying to catch the attention of a barman on a busy weekend night.

There’s more. According to a recent survey carried out by dating site Match.com, when judging a potential date, men and women rate teeth as the most important asset, followed by use of grammar, hair and clothes.

Dentally-delectable dates aside, the larger your smile, the longer you may live. Or at least the larger and more intense your smile in photographs, the longer you may live, according to American research which found that those who exhibited even a partial smile in photographs, lived a couple of years longer than those who didn’t smile at all, and those who exhibited a full smile lived on average seven years longer than those who didn’t smile at all.

Other research shows that smile intensity in photographs from childhood into early adulthood can indicate the likelihood of future divorce. Those who participated in the survey had no way of knowing that the amount of teeth on display in their early snaps would be an indicator of the success or failure of their future relationships — that by sealing their lips, they were subconsciously sealing their fates.

The habit of smiling broadly in photographs is all very well, but it’s likely to be one that’s more prevalent among those with gleaming pearly-whites than those with terrible teeth. But at least most people are investing in the basics. In the experience of Dr Carmel Curtin, founder of the Corabbey Dental Clinic in Midleton, Co Cork, cash-strapped adults are continuing to look after essential dental care.

“While most don’t have the cash to invest heavily in cosmetic dentistry, they realise the importance of healthy teeth and gums and avail of the free annual dental check-up that’s available to PRSI and medical-card holders,” she says.

As for what sort of orthodontic treatment most Irish adults need, Dr Katherine Condren, president of the Orthodontic Society of Ireland says: “For most, it’s simply a matter of lining up the top teeth for a nice smile, but for some with an overjet (overbite), jaw surgery may be required.

Dr Condren regularly treats parents who have put off their own treatment until after their families were raised. “Most, even if they have poor teeth themselves, look after their children’s needs first,” she says.

The fact that she recently fitted braces on a patient in her late 60s is proof, if we need it, that it’s never too late to invest in a better smile. Yet while self-improvement is a noble pursuit at any age, Dr Condren cautions against overestimating the impact of cosmetic correction.

“There have been occasions when I’ve had to explain that while jaw surgery may help patients to feel better about themselves, there are no guarantees that it will deliver a husband or a new job.”

Orla McDonagh tells a similar story: “Some people come to us and say: ‘I hate how I look. I hate my teeth. I hate my smile.” They think their treatment will entirely change their lives. Others ask us to re-do work which has been well done elsewhere. This sounds alarm bells that their expectations may never be reached.”

For most, reluctance to invest in adult dental care is more a reflection of affordability than apathy. Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association says that government cutbacks aren’t helping.

“Until 2009, it was possible to claim 41% tax relief on specialist dental treatment, but that has been reduced to 20%. Under the medical card scheme, which has never covered orthodontic treatment, the State will fund one annual check-up, two fillings and an unlimited amount of extractions. Gum treatments, scales and polishes used to be covered, but this is no longer the case.”

According to the CSO, in 2009/2010, the average household spend on dental treatment was just €196. We don’t know what the average household spends on cosmetics was, but when it comes to prioritising financial outlay, it’s worth considering that a smile, Hollywood or otherwise, is a cheaper alternative to looking good than slapping on foundation.

This fact was confirmed by an Orbit Complete study in which 69% of those polled, found bare-faced smiling women more attractive than unsmiling women wearing make-up.

Given the obvious charms of the ‘au naturel’ look, you might imagine that people would find natural-looking teeth more attractive than obviously bleached ones but most don’t. Researchers from King’s Hospital in London found that those with whitened teeth were considered to be more attractive and more successful than those without, and those with crowded or bad teeth were thought to be less clever, less popular and less well-adjusted than those with well-positioned pearly whites.

Considering how superficial and vacuous we seem to be in matters of attraction, it’s worth remembering that while smiling women are more attractive to men, women, according to 2011 research, prefer the look of men who hold back on the winning smiles and display signs of pride — instead.

That said, Niall Horan’s winning smile is obviously not doing him any harm, as he earns millions and enjoys fame across the globe or that his inclusion this month on the Sunday Times Rich List (€5.9m) can only have served to make his smile all the broader.

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