My obsession began about four years ago, as I lurched along Central Expressway and looked up to see a billboard with the message “I make sexy teeth.” A gorgeous woman with tumbling locks stared down at me like some goddess on Mount Olympus. Was that woman a dentist? Had dentists gotten super hot? What did “sexy teeth” even mean? Some billboards really demand follow-up questions.
I saw the signs across town after that. They made me insane, which was only proof they were working. I developed a curious attachment to one featuring a James Bond type in a white tux and a black bow tie. His name was Field Harrison, because of course it was, and as I nudged along in my lonely little two-door sedan, a story began to unfold in my mind: the dashing Dr. Harrison stepping from his Aston Martin as a buxom hygienist handed him a whirring drill. No unsexy molar was safe.
So much about modern life is the same from town to town. There is a Panera on the corner, a freeway that runs north to south, a bearded barista in a coffee shop making an espresso drink. But every once in a while, you come across a detail that can be found only in your city, during your time on earth—and the “I make sexy teeth” billboards struck me as a very Dallas artifact. How had they gotten here? Who made them? Curiosity nagged me like a sore tooth, and eventually I couldn’t take it. I had to know the story behind sexy teeth.
“There’s a lot of Photoshop on that billboard. Let’s put it this way. Nobody’s stopping me at the mall because they recognize me.”Field Harrison
One recent afternoon, I walked into the corporate office of Mint Dentistry on the third floor of a building in Mockingbird Station, across the highway from SMU. The lobby had a charcoal sofa, a silver coffee table, a look you might call “uptown Ikea.” I was escorted to the office of Dr. Field Harrison himself. At 38, he is the owner and founder of Mint Dentistry, and though he was not in black-tie formal, he still cut a sharp figure in a cool navy military-style jacket and sneakers that looked on trend. He was lightly unshaven. When I told him he was famous to me, he gave a good-natured laugh.
“There’s a lot of Photoshop on that billboard,” he said, taking a seat behind his desk. “Let’s put it this way. Nobody’s stopping me at the mall because they recognize me.” He flashed a smile, something he does not do on his famous billboard. You need to smile in your ad, a few friends teased him. “They kept reading the sign like it said I have sexy teeth. No, I make sexy teeth,” he explained. But other Mint billboards depict the dentists showing their pearly whites. Harrison is now among them. He has a nice smile, by the way, although at one point during our interview, he lifted his lip to reveal a small but noticeable gap between his front tooth and left incisor, a reminder that no one’s teeth are perfectly straight. Nature, like capitalism, craves variety.
Harrison founded Mint in 2009, when he was only 28, two years out of dental school at Baylor, where he studied with kids whose fathers and grandfathers often ran practices. Dentistry was a profession passed through the bloodlines, but not for Harrison, who stumbled onto his career at 19 on a mission trip to Romania with a family friend, a dentist, and felt the lightning strike of a calling. (Harrison and his wife, Sabrina, are devout Christians. She is the interior designer for Mint and also takes prayer requests through her website.) The fact that Harrison didn’t have a ready-made gig after graduation fueled his entrepreneurial spirit. His fledgling business showed a knack for punching out of the pack. An early bus campaign featured Harrison in a leather jacket with the word “Mint” across it. Of course, Harrison had his own family inheritance. His dad was an adman who ran the Mint marketing department. The company blossomed and now has more than 30 locations around Dallas, with spots in Houston, Sugarland, and Pasadena. The website claims to have whitened more than 600,000 mouths.
The story of sexy teeth, then, takes us back several years. Harrison was talking with a woman in his chair about veneers, a procedure he considered his specialty. She’d seen some bad jobs and was growing nervous.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “I’m going to make your teeth sexy.”
The words popped out of his mouth—and boom. A new slogan was born.
The notion of “sexy teeth” may sound preposterous, but to Harrison it was only logical. He saw teeth as fashion. He saw himself as a tooth designer. His adman father was skeptical at first (too risqué), but Harrison knew the slogan was a winner. What was wrong with injecting a little bad-boy sizzle into an industry known as old-fashioned and dorky? Most dental ads were the equivalent of a yawn. Someone’s random gum flap, an old bald guy, a lame pun: “We’re all smiles around here!” Even worse were the Hollywood portrayals in which dentists were lunatics and losers, a stuffy-nosed sad sack who couldn’t handle real medicine or a cackling sadist wielding a giant pair of pliers. Those were the pop culture messages around dentistry: boring, painful. Mint went another direction. Its dentists were cool.
And attractive. The ad campaign was done in-house, and when I asked Harrison how he found such good-looking dentists to photograph, he said those were just the dentists working at the company. “But I’m sure there were a couple scrubs who didn’t make the cut,” I said, and he laughed and told me a different problem. One of their dentists was a part-time model, and after the agency saw his billboard, someone there called Mint and they had to take it down.
More than three years after the ads went up, they are among those peculiar landmarks that can bring a disembodied city together, if only in irritation. “Does anybody else think the Mint Dentistry billboards are ridiculous?” asked a user on a subreddit community page about Dallas, and more than 150 commenters piled on, a typical internet mishmash of hyperbole and grump, attack followed by counterdefense, but then someone pointed out the obvious. “Marketing mission accomplished,” the user wrote. The thread was “one of the most popular posts on this subreddit this week.”
I actually went to Mint Dentistry once. This was years ago, when I needed a cleaning, and my annoyance with the company’s ads turned into a joke on me, since I had landed in one of its chairs. The place was sunny and youthful and studded with shiny accessories like iPads and Beats headphones that made me sad for my old, boring dentist with his dowdy wooden furniture and zero social media presence. But then my brisk cleaning turned into a cavity filling so fast that the efficiency felt like a conveyor belt. Who were these young, beautiful people rummaging in my mouth? I was dazed by the time I walked through the lobby, and as I wiped a crust of drool from the corner of my mouth, I could not have told you whether my teeth had just been fixed or needlessly upsold.
Harrison took notes as I told him this story. He said one of his goals was to improve personal connection. Dentistry might be fashion, but it also requires trust.
I wish him luck, but I’ve returned to my old, boring dentist. I needed a break from the Dallas glamour parade, and something about that drab examining room feels sturdy and safe. Predictable. Ordinary. Change can be good, but so can sliding back into a familiar routine. Open, close, spit into this cup. Some people just weren’t meant for sexy teeth.