A child of the ’80s, my baby teeth were made primarily of Tang and Fruit Stripe gum. Going to see the dentist in Dallas was terrifying, their toolkits filled with aggressive Waterpiks and drills and that weird mouth mold clay that had to harden inside your mouth, forcing you to gag for an eternity to take an impression of your teeth. All teeth-care incentives were nightmare-based. “I didn’t floss” was the headliner of my first confession sacrament at St. Rita Catholic Church. The priest gave me three Hail Marys and a travel-size bottle of brown Listerine. (Back then, we didn’t have the luxury of Cool Mint Listerine. It was character-building, burn-your-mouth-out, alcohol-forward Listerine only. You could spit it out only after you cried a little.)
But now Dallas dentistry is all about making the visit more comfortable. There’s an espresso machine and an arcade and someone making balloon animals in the lobby of the pediatric dentist’s office of my youth. Plus, everything has gone digital. My 9-year-old needed a retainer, and instead of putting him through an unreasonable amount of discomfort, they just took some pictures and 3D-printed the perfect bite-glamorizer for him. He even got to pick the color. (Obviously he chose glow-in-the-dark, which is factually the best of all colors.)
We’re trying to rebrand dentistry with a new image that’s less dentist from Little Shop of Horrors, more Nordstrom spa. If you’re reading this in a dentist’s office right now, they’re probably about to offer you a set of headphones with soothing playlists to muffle the high-pitched squeals of the drills. Dallas Functional Dentistry’s website says their office even boasts “Soothing textures & colors to feel comfortable and at home” and also “local artwork.” Not sure what percentage of people are drawn to visit a dentist based on knowing that the walls will be cloaked in Sherwin-Williams’ Evergreen Fog and their aunt’s acrylic paint pour art, but y’all are the experts.
Maybe dentists are going overboard trying to make us comfortable because Dallas is so stressed out all the time. Dr. Randy Sanovich, oral maxillofacial surgeon at Dallas Surgical Arts, says, “Our TMJ Botox treatments went up 60 percent in the last year and a half.” You’re grinding your teeth, Dallas. You gotta cut that out. It’s hard to guess exactly what we could have been worrying about in this perfect world, but it had to be the stress of parking our own cars at the dentist, right?
Your dentist is trying so hard to make you comfortable that they’re one step away from a post-cleaning Swedish massage + pedicure package with an optional add-on of someone giving you compliments for an hour and a half. (“I love your hair! And I know you’ve been overthinking it, but you were such a good mom the other day during that argument with your kid when they said you were stupid and you fired back with ‘Your mom’s stupid!’ ”) Actually, this sounds great, and someone should make all of these amenities available. You know we’ll pay extra.
Of course, the biggest dentistry rebranding attempt in Dallas is Mint Dentistry’s big ol’ sexy teeth billboards. They’ve become as much a part of the Dallas billboard landscape as Chick-fil-A cows and the Texas Hammer. Dr. Field Harrison, founder of Mint Dentistry and the maker of the sexual teeth, is the author of Golf Proverbs (“a book of spiritual metaphors that combines his passion for the game of golf with his love for business, family, faith, and Jesus in short one-liner life lessons full of wisdom, wit, and inspiration,” according to the Mint Dentistry website). The Harrisons also very recently launched Amen Church inside the Meyerson Symphony Center. So, yeah: he started Mint Dentistry. And now he has a church. Seems like Sexy Teeth Church could be the mash-up Dallas needs. C’mon. What could be more Dallas than teeth church?
Once you’re all nice and comfortable in that dentist’s chair, maybe that soothing environment lulls you into deciding it’s time to dabble in some cosmetic dentistry, so you can look just like your favorite reality TV star on their second season of filming. Or maybe two years of staring at your own face on Zoom made you want to throw some money at your mouth. Whatever the reason, in Dallas, getting yourself a full set of veneers can set you back a pretty penny. Sanovich says, “If you get full-arch implant-retained prosthetic teeth with four to six implants on top and bottom, that’s like $65,000. Cheapest I’ve ever seen is about $45,000.” And the most you can spend? “I think you can spend six figures. It’s in the $85,000 to $95,000 range.” And remember, because we’re talking cosmetic dentistry, that’s all out of pocket. Sanovich adds, “I’m always amazed by how much people will spend on this one little area. A few white things in the mouth can drive people to spend as much as you’d pay for a Porsche.”
What’s the difference between a $45,000 set of teeth and a six-figure set of teeth? “The biggest thing they’ll sell,” Sanovich says, “is that when you get a new set of teeth and pay extra money for it, the day that they decide what color you are, they have an artist who comes in and paints individual portions of the teeth and chooses the shade. You don’t just get sent off to a lab.”
Dr. Paulino Castellon, prosthodontist at Dallas Prosthodontics, says, “The cost is high because I’m paying an artist—the laboratory technician—to develop this restoration, to develop this piece of art that I’m going to put in your mouth. You’re working in a 1.5-millimeter space, and you have to build into that thickness the colors of the tooth. And that is the talent of the technician. I have to guide them about what they need to do, and they have to execute it.”
Really turning on the hard sell, Castellon asks, “How much is your front tooth worth to you?” I thought about a life without my front tooth. I thought about how people would ask me how I lost it, or why I didn’t have a front tooth, and how I’d have to say, “Oh, someone bought it out of my face.” And then, they’d ask, “For how much?” And I’d really like to be able to answer, “See this beautiful Porsche I’m driving? That much.” I set the value at 100,000 imaginary dollars.
“Mine is worth at least a million dollars,” Castellon says. “You want my front tooth, I need a million dollars. And you said $100,000. You know what? I’m charging $2,200.”
Getting a whole new set of veneers is becoming trendy for a younger and younger set. To quote the poetry of the incomparable Doja Cat in Lil Nas X’s “Scoop”: “And now my body look like something you’d eat cake off/I just got my veneers, now bitches wanna rip they face off.” She’s 26 years old. With the lifetime of a set of veneers running 15 to 20 years, she’ll be buying at least a couple more Porsche’s worth of teeth.
Mine is worth a million dollars. You want my front tooth, I need a million dollars. You know what? I’m charging $2,200.
And for many, once they get the veneers, adjusting their smile doesn’t stop there. Sanovich says, “A big popular thing is a lip lift. Nobody wants to spend $100,000 on their teeth and then not be able to show it because their lip is long.” He adds, “It’s like every hobby: you went to go buy one thing and all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Man, I needed this, too. And this. And this.’ I think it’s how people have their lips get bigger than they ever should have intended to. They did it once. They liked it. They didn’t let it go all the way down because it starts to look deflated in their minds, so they add more. All of a sudden, they’re at, like, four or five inflations. And each time, you kind of forgot what the original one was, so they get much higher than they ever should have been.”
And this right here is why it’s important to teach your kids at a young age that they need to be nice to others and that having friends is important. A good friend will never let you go too far with your injections. A good friend will say, “Put. The filler. Down.”
Castellon explains the reason veneers need replacing after a couple decades: “What happens to our gums as we age is that they recede. And when you put in a veneer, you put in an edge. And then you have recession, so now you’re looking at the root. As you get older, you want to change the veneers because now they are showing. I’m all about helping people achieve their expectations and their goals. But when people come to me and they say, ‘I want to get this done because I never want to have to do this again,’ I’m like, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ ”
To stress his concern about the lifetime commitment of getting veneers at a younger age, Castellon then gets more specific about the process. “Grinding down on your tooth is an irreversible step,” he says. “And the enamel of your teeth is irreplaceable. Once you cut the enamel, it’s not coming back. So if I do that to you and you’re 15, and you want eight veneers, by the time you’re 35, we’re already going to be thinking of changing these things.”
Grinding down your teeth. Cutting enamel. When it comes down to it, how comfortable can a visit to the dentist truly be? Even if you give me a Tempur-Pedic chair with a weighted blanket filled with teddy bears and laughing gas that tastes like a Casamigos margarita, you’re still also putting your gloved hands all the way into my mouth and potentially drilling into my head.
Is a comfortable visit to the dentist really what we should be trying to sell? Aren’t we running uphill into the wind a little bit?
Why not go the opposite direction, toward something more achievable? Let’s make it less comfortable to go to the dentist. Stop pretending we can make this cool and relaxing and fun. That’s not your job. You’re a dentist. Your job is to make our chompers glisten and rip teeth out of our heads sometimes. It’s what we love about you. It’s what attracted us to you in the first place. Instead of trying to be something you’re not, let’s embrace the real you. Let’s make your spot a one-stop shopping experience for everything that’s a little uncomfortable about adult life. It’ll be a playland of low-level discomfort. A NopeSpa.
Start by making me park far enough away that I get 2,000 steps in before I get to your office. Then I want to get my teeth perfected, get something waxed, and get my driver’s license renewed. Set me up with a fiber-rich Real Housewives-style lunch with a friend, during which they’ll confront me about a rumor. I want to have someone force me to look at all the monthly subscriptions I added the last time I drank too much, and then I’ll head over to the Vehicle Inspection and Registration wing of your offices—right after I get a mammogram and a colonoscopy. Let’s call it the Adulting Package. Charge as much as you want, as long as we can wear our AirPods the whole time. Knock it all out in six hours or less, and I’d fork over all my Porsche dollars.
This story originally ran in the August issue of D Magazine. Email [email protected].