Dental veneers are thin porcelain “shields” placed over the teeth to correct discoloration, chips, and other surface imperfections that don’t require a full restoration. Although today’s veneers help people from all walks of life achieve a straighter, more attractive smile, they were originally designed for Hollywood starlets, in an era where beautiful smiles were hard to come by. Learn more about veneers’ unusual history in today’s Apex cosmetic dentist blog.
Industrialization and Tooth Decay
In the silent movie era, all a star really needed to make it big was facial beauty–vocal quality and line delivery were unnecessary. Unfortunately, in the 1910s and 1920s, the Western world was at a bit of a low point in terms of oral health. This is primarily because during these decades, refined sugar leapt from being an expensive delicacy to being an affordable household staple. And instead of living off on an agricultural diet of vegetables, meats, and dairy products, the new industrial workforce gravitated to starchy items that could be quickly shoved in a pocket or eaten in-between shifts (i.e. cookies, biscuits, and sandwiches).
Our oral health habits, unfortunately, were slow to catch up to this new carb-laden, sugary diet. The concept of regular, twice-daily tooth brushing and flossing would not really take hold until the World War II era. It’s estimated that two to three times as many people lost their teeth during this era as do today–possibly why no costume of a 1920s hobo is complete without a few blacked-out teeth.
Without the need for on-screen talking, most actors could get away with having less-than-glamorous-smiles. But things changed with the advent of the “Talkies” in 1928. Many silent movie stars that had formally shone bright could no longer pass the muster, and a new solution was needed.
The Invention of Movie Cosmetics – and Veneers
Enter Maksymilian Faktorowicz, a Polish businessman, beautician, and entrepreneur. You may recognize the shortened version of his name, Max Factor, which is now a major international cosmetic brand. But in 1909, Mr. Factor had just moved to Los Angeles to provide wigs and makeup to film industry stars. Greasepaint, which had been used in the theatre for centuries, was too thick and harshly-colored for the new film medium, so Factor began experimenting with various compounds in an effort to develop a suitable substitute. By 1914, he had perfected the first cosmetic cream specifically created for motion-pictures. Unlike theatrical cosmetics, it would not crack or cake as actors moved about the set. Factor’s “flexible greasepaint” made him an overnight sensation, and a much-sought-after authority on movie cosmetics. He personally applied his products to the likes of Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Clara Bow, and Mae West.
Factor had become the industry’s go-to hair and makeup expert, so naturally, producers needing to fix the teeth problem came to him, too. Factor then asked dentist Charles L. Pincus to correct what his makeup couldn’t. Pincus created thin, prosthetic dental “fronts” that could be temporarily adhered to the teeth using denture powder. These first porcelain veneers were very fragile, and were lucky to last for a single movie shoot (by contrast, modern porcelain used in dental restorations can lasts for 10 or even 25 years, depending on care and maintenance).
A Long Journey to Success
After that, it took many cosmetic dentists many years to move those early, brittle veneers to the ones we use today. Pincus himself moved from using porcelain to acrylic, and a porcelain-acrylic composite, in 1938, but the veneers were still temporary. In the 1950s, Dr. Michael Bunocore pioneered a way to permanently bond veneers to the teeth, called “etching,” in which the dentist applied a type of acid to the teeth to open up the pores of the enamel, creating a greater surface area for dental cement to cling to.
Then, in 1982, R.J. Simonsen and J.R. Calamia developed a process that allowed veneers to become a practical cosmetic solution for patients. After nearly 40 years of continual refinement, veneers now offer a safe and reliable cosmetic solution for damaged, worn, or discolored teeth.
Need A Cosmetic Dentist in Apex?
At Hansen Dentistry, we use medical-grade porcelain to achieve incredible, natural-looking results. With proper care and maintenance, the modern dental veneers we make can last for several decades. If you would like to learn more about whether or not you qualify for this procedure, please click here to schedule an appointment!