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The insider's guide to perfect teeth

By Jackie Dent for CNN
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(CNN) -- "For I tell thee, Sancho, a mouth without teeth is like a mill without a millstone, and a tooth is much more to be prized than a diamond."

And so said Don Quixote, the tragic-comic knight in Cervantes' literary masterpiece, to his sidekick Sancho as they wandered Spain.

Four hundreds year on, similar ideals about beautiful teeth pervade society but the quest to get them is a tad easier.

Why have perfect teeth?

Dr. Anoop Maini, a British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry board member, says he sees countless patients whose poor teeth are seriously affecting their lives. "Patients may be attractive but they have crooked, discolored teeth, they don't smile in photos, they cover their mouth when they are speaking to people," he says. "It affects them in the workplace."

My teeth are crooked but braces?

Braces -- cruelly -- have become a metaphor for being chronically uncool. This perception is largely fueled by Hollywood, which seems to have a penchant for representing a nerd by putting braces on their teeth and a violin in their hand.

To escape the nerd construct, adults with moderately crooked teeth are increasingly turning to Invisalignexternal link, a thin, clear shell that is slipped over the teeth. A series of slightly different moulds are worn over a period of six to eight months, after which patients can expect a handsome new set of teeth.

What about the white smile diet?

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists (AACD) say apples, pears, celery carrots, cauliflower and cucumbers naturally clean your teeth by producing saliva, which combines with the foods' natural fibres. Strawberries and lemons are natural teeth whiteners while coffee, red wine and blueberries are likely to stain. They also advise drinking from a straw, and brushing your teeth twice a month with baking soda.

I really like coffee.

Teeth whitening can be an effective way to lighten the existing shade of your teeth, yellowed by age and diet. The teeth are basically bleached but there is no damage done to the enamel. At the dentist, the process consists of a laser burning into the teeth, which have been smeared with a gel. Or you can get hold of a whitening kit to take home.

I have a really gummy smile.

"Soft tissue contouring" or gum melting can help patients who have overgrown gums. The cosmetic dentist simple vaporizes the errant gum with a laser.

I have a dental phobia.

A national survey conducted in the UK in July this year found that one in five people are "too scared" to go to the dentist. If the phobia persists, you could try a Snap on Smileexternal link. An impression of the mouth is taken, and the patient then chooses from a catalogue of teeth, which includes 19 colors and 18 shapes. The smile, made of plastic resin, snaps into place and can apparently be worn when eating.

What about grills?

The British writer Graham Greene once observed in "Travels With My Aunt," through the character of Mr. Visconti: "I had very good dentures once. Some magnificent gold work. It's the only form of jewelry a man can wear that women fully appreciate."

Grills are gaudy mouthpieces -- ranging in price from $20 to $50,000 for a full set -- worn by gangsta-aspirants putting their money where their mouth is. They can be made of gold and "iced out" -- encrusted with tiny diamonds. Check out well-known grills-maker Paul Wallexternal link, for a plethora of styles.


A set of grills featuring blue diamonds like this would set you back $28,000.

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