I Spent $25,000 & Postponed My Wedding For The Perfect Smile
First comes love, then comes… veneers? Why brides are more obsessed with their teeth than ever.
A year before her wedding, Stephanie Phillips, a bride-to-be in Long Island, NY, visited her dentist seeking veneers. “I didn’t like how crooked my front teeth looked, and I would try to avoid laughing loudly or smiling,” she says. “I started to see people [with] these bright white smiles on social media, and they appeared so confident. I knew that on my wedding day, I wanted that same feeling. I wanted the perfect smile with perfect teeth.”
But, it turned out, those perfect teeth wouldn’t be as simple as getting a set of veneers. Her dentist recommended work that was considerably more extensive, including braces to straighten her teeth, implants to help with the fact that she was actually missing her lateral incisors due to a genetic condition, a temporary bridge, and whitening. It was a treatment plan that simply could not be completed in a year.
So she postponed the wedding.
This past October, two and a half years after her engagement, and nearly $25,000 worth of dental work later, Stephanie finally said her vows with the teeth she had always imagined. “I was willing to wait for the smile of my dreams,” she says. And she’s not alone.
For many brides-to-be, improving their smile has become yet another must on the pre-wedding checklist, like getting highlights or choosing a florist. The reasons are myriad, and include something old, something new. The desire for great wedding photos — and the permanence of that wedding album — has been around forever, of course. But the added, outside pressure from social media has not.
These days, women are exposed to a never-ending feed of flawless bodies, complexions, and yes, smiles, so it’s no surprise that many brides feel pressure to put their best teeth forward in their wedding photos. “Recent research has found that appearance pressure within social media is associated with the motivation to alter one’s appearance,” says Carmen Papaluca, a PhD student in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Notre Dame in Australia, who has conducted studies on social media and appearance. “Long-term exposure to ideals in this environment is likely to normalize and exacerbate these desires, particularly something like the 'perfect smile,' which is now seen to be achievable.”
Social media has also educated these women — who have always felt pressure to look good for their weddings — in the available options. “Ten years ago, brides would come in knowing they didn’t like their smile, and ask, ‘Is there anything we can do about it?'” says Jon Marashi, MD, a cosmetic dentist in Los Angeles. “But now, with the University of Google and Instagram State University, patients have access to so much information, so they come in saying, ‘I want this procedure. I saw this. Am I a candidate for that?'”
I was willing to wait for the smile of my dreams.
While there is no such thing as a "perfect" smile, and plenty of women are embracing what makes their teeth uniquely theirs — gaps, stains, and all — there's nothing wrong with pursuing a cosmetic procedure to make a change, either. And for many engaged women, that includes three main treatments: whitening, porcelain veneers, and braces. Learn more about each one, including how much time you should set aside for them before the big day, ahead.
“Color is always the number one driver, because brides want to have white teeth; they make people look better, younger, and healthier,” says Marashi. It’s particularly popular with brides who already have straight teeth, and just want a little boost for the big day. “Both of my sons got married in the past year, and I treated both of their now-wives, bleaching their smiles in advance of their weddings. They both had beautiful smiles that didn’t require additional work,” says cosmetic dentist Gregg Lituchy, MD, of Lowenberg, Lituchy, and Kantor in New York City.
With the University of Google and Instagram State University, patients have access to so much information, so they come in saying, ‘I want this procedure.'
Jon Marashi, MD
There are three main choices: in-office whitening, dentist-provided trays, and at-home solutions, such as strips. “They all use peroxide to lift stains and brighten the color — the difference is the strength; the stronger it is, the better and faster the result you’re going to get,” says Dr. Marashi. In-office whitening treatments can take as little as a single one-hour session; trays from the dentist require seven to 10 days. An at-home product like Crest Whitestrips can absolutely do the job, but could require multiple treatments over several weeks. “Many busy brides prefer to have their whitening treatment done in the office because they know they won’t do the home regimen,” says cosmetic dentist Elisa Mello, MD, of NYC Smile Design.
If you're splurging on an in-office procedure, schedule it at least two to four weeks before the wedding. “We don’t know what the final color of the teeth is going to be until ten days after they’re whitened,” says Dr. Marashi, who explains that this is due to the teeth initially dehydrating from the procedure, and then later rehydrating, which “settles” the color slightly. “I have had people come in two or three times prior to the wedding to get themselves to the level of brightness they would like to have,” he says.
Whatever you do: Don't schedule it the same week as your big day. “There are people who can get tooth sensitivity from whitening, and there’s no way to know who will or won’t be sensitive,” says Marashi. “The sensitivity can range from mild discomfort to pretty intense pain. It always goes away, but if you whiten the day before your wedding, and you’re one of the handful of people who get a tooth sensitivity, it’s going to be a miserable night for you.”
For the most dramatic bridal smile makeover, it’s all about veneers. In this procedure, a wafer-thin piece of porcelain is bonded to the front of the teeth, instantly altering the shape, size, and color. “Beautiful, natural-looking veneers can vastly improve your smile,” says Dr. Lituchy. “They can correct the color of the teeth, make crooked teeth look straight, lengthen teeth that might appear too short, or build out the back side of teeth to make the smile broader, as well.”
The process typically takes two three-hour visits — and dentists suggest scheduling this at least two to three months prior to the wedding. At the first appointment, they’ll take impressions, prep the teeth by slightly roughening and drilling the enamel, and attach temporary veneers; at the second, the temporaries are removed and the permanent veneers are attached.
Though it can be a dramatic procedure, the entire process typically takes only two weeks — though that can be sped up if necessary. “We had a bride come in from the Middle East to fix a broken front tooth, [but] we determined together that she needed more than just a simple bonding,” says cosmetic dentist Zachary Linhart, MD, of Linhart Dentistry in New York City. “We decided to do 10 upper and 10 lower porcelain veneers, but of course, this was Thursday, she was leaving on Sunday, and her wedding was the following weekend in her home country!" So, Dr. Linhart completed the entire procedure in three short days.
Ask any metal-mouthed middle-schooler if they’d voluntarily go through braces as an adult, and we’d bet you wouldn’t get a lot of takers. But brides are lining up for straightening treatments these days. Invisalign, for instance, is now the number one pre-wedding beauty treatment, according to RealSelf.com.
Brenda Friedman, a Chicago lawyer who got married last year, was one of the brides seeking straighter teeth. “I had braces as a kid, however, my teeth moved after years of not wearing my retainer,” she says. “I had considered Invisalign for several years, but ultimately decided to take the plunge after I saw my engagement photos. Instead of enjoying them, I found myself zooming in on my teeth. I didn't want to have the same insecurity with my wedding photos.”
I decided to take the plunge after I saw my engagement photos. Instead of enjoying them, I found myself zooming in on my teeth.
It was a similar story for Allison Lewis, a lifestyle blogger in Louisville, Kentucky, who says she has spent around $2,000 for the 22 weeks of pre-wedding clear aligners that she is currently undergoing to straighten her bottom teeth. “For both blog and wedding photos, I want to make sure my teeth look as good as possible before posting,” she says. “And I am definitely happy with the results. I have about eight weeks left, but my teeth are already pretty much straight.”
Luckily for today’s time-pressed brides, the process no longer has to involve years of orthodontic appointments. The average straightening time for adults is one year, says Boston-area dentist Emily Joseph, MD, and can often be much shorter than that. “Depending on the severity of the crowding or whatever the orthodontic issue, there are ways to move the teeth in three to six months now as opposed to what used to be two years,” says Dr. Marashi.
And even if you have more severe issues (and a wedding that's less than a year away), there are options. “Brides who are interested in straightening their teeth, but only have six months or less, still have time,” says Joseph. “They may not achieve the ideal result in the time they have, but you’ll see improvement quickly. The brackets can be removed at the time of the wedding — which is even easier with clear aligners — and treatment can resume again after the wedding to finish the desired result if you ran out of time.”
Regardless of what treatment you decide on, whatever you do, don’t do it right. before. the wedding. (And BTW, that holds true for haircuts, new skin-care products, or cosmetic dentistry treatments.) Nicole Pearl, a beauty editor who is now married, remembers using whitening strips the night before her wedding. “I applied the strips on my teeth, but part of them also went on my gums,” she says. “When I peeled off the strips, my gums were white — toothpaste white! I freaked out and was starting to practice a closed-mouth smile, because I looked ridiculous.” Fortunately, her gums regained their normal color an hour later. “It was totally human error that caused the result,” she says. “But I learned my lesson in terms of application — and of trying any new beauty treatment right before the wedding.”