As her younger brother walked his new bride down the aisle, Sallyann Hall beamed with delight. She carried on grinning proudly through all the official wedding portraits. In fact, she didn’t stop smiling all day.
But her elation wasn’t just from seeing her brother married. It was also because, for the first time in her life, the 49-year-old felt she had teeth good enough to show off in photographs.
For decades, Sallyann’s pearly whites had been such a source of embarrassment to her that she wouldn’t let anyone see them, let alone allow them to be photographed. As a result of abscesses and infections throughout her adult life, she had lost six teeth, with three gaps visible, and her bottom front ones wobbled.
Sallyann, from Hythe, Kent, discovered a dentist who would remove all her teeth and replace them with dental implants.
‘I hadn’t planned it that way, but my teeth were perfect for the big day,’ she says. ‘I hogged the camera all day long. Everyone commented on my wonderful smile.’
What they didn’t realise was quite how much her smile had cost, because Sallyann, a pastoral support worker at a school, had spent a staggering £32,500. Far more than most people spend on a new car, or even earn in a year.
But Sallyann is far from alone in the amount she was prepared to spend on cosmetic dental work. It’s estimated that thousands of Britons are shelling out a small fortune every year to achieve perfectly straight white teeth.
While in the past a snaggle-toothed smile was perfectly acceptable for us Brits — and the butt of many a joke abroad — it’s something we’ve become increasingly keen to correct.
And in 2013 an estimated 100,000 people had dental implants fitted, the most expensive procedure of all and a four-fold increase on the previous five years.
The so-called ‘status smile’ — once something only seen in the mouths of Hollywood stars — has become big business in the UK. Tennis’ most famous mum, Judy Murray, recently caused a stir with her new dental work — her sparkling white teeth outshining her footwork on Strictly Come Dancing.
Given that research has shown good teeth are not just an indicator of wealth, they can also improve people’s employment potential and make them look five years younger, it’s perhaps no wonder.
A 2008 study, for example, discovered we judge people with a missing tooth to be more aggressive and less trustworthy or intelligent than others.
Social scientist Malcolm Gladwell believes those with bad teeth are now held back socially and financially. Like the obese, they’re denied certain jobs because they don’t look appealing.
The subtext is that if you have crooked teeth your parents didn’t care enough to pay for braces, while missing teeth signal a poor diet or a lack of oral hygiene.
Sallyann, married to fellow pastoral support worker Mark, 46, believes she inherited bad teeth from her mother and grandmother. ‘I’ve always taken great pride in my appearance and cleaned my teeth properly, but I was always losing teeth,’ she says.
‘People think if you have rotten teeth, you don’t clean them properly, but it’s not true. No one ever said anything, but I was convinced they were thinking it.’
Sallyann spent years looking for a solution and eventually realised dental implants were her only hope. They’re small titanium rods that are drilled into the jawbone and protrude through the gum. A false tooth is then attached on top for a natural look.
They traditionally last longer than cosmetic crowns (caps placed over failing teeth) or cosmetic bridges (a false tooth held in place by being attached to the surrounding teeth). The dental implants themselves last for decades while the false teeth may occasionally need to be replaced.
The first dentist Sallyann saw said she wasn’t suitable for dental implants as she didn’t have enough jawbone to screw them into, and suggested cosmetic dentures.
She says: ‘No way on Earth was I having dentures: I was too young and too vain. I couldn’t go to bed with my husband and take my teeth out!’…computer equipment that could work out where to place the titanium rods and at what angles to avoid any too‑thin bone — for £32,500.There was no financial help available from the NHS, which only provides dentures, crowns and bridges as standard treatment.
‘I used some savings and took out a small loan,’ says Sallyann. ‘My children, who are all grown up, were fine with it and so was my husband. Mark knew how much I hated my teeth and how they affected my confidence.’…read more