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Maxillary incisor art

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Woman wearing designer braces

Dentistry fashion treats the enamel on your tooth like a canvas. If your pearly whites are on display all the time, why not turn them into an arresting sight with psychedelic braces, tattoos or designer brackets?

Style gurus may think differently, but for some girls, a good fashion sense still demands everything from shoes to bangles be matched with their Sunday best. That evening, two months ago, when 17-year-old Mulund girl Ria Thakker entered a party in a red-and-yellow flowing lehenga and matching braces, she didn't have to try too hard to make an impact. She just had to part her lips in a wide grin.

The reactions were so flattering that the second year student decided to stretch the grin further. And bare her pretty new braces that once required nerves of the same material they were then made of.

"Even the thought of sporting steel braces in front of my friends was awkward," Thakker recalls. So when her dentist presented her with the option of personalised colourful rubberbands that fit on top of the steel braces, she was thrilled. What's more, they could be changed at every monthly appointment at no extra expense. The multi-coloured rubber bands, which she changed religiously every month, became a part of Thakker's introduction in college, like some personal quirk. "Everyone thought I was cool," she says, still revelling in the memory of the attention the braces got her. Thakker has just finished her treatment and boasts a set of perfectly aligned teeth. But she misses her brilliant braces.

These coloured elastic rubber bands that run along the teeth transform the traditional tin grin into what Mumbai's Dr Krunal Thakker calls "a rainbow of colour opportunities". It is a hit with kids who don't fancy themselves in metal braces.

Another popular option, says Dr Thakker, is shaped brackets attached to the upper front teeth. These are specialty steel brackets shaped like stars, footballs or diamonds. "If your braces are on display anyway, why not flaunt them?" asks Dr Thakker. This is precisely the thought that has given rise to a new, niche industry called fashion dentistry.

It's an industry which rides on the belief that pearly whites are the new style canvases. It explains the popularity of accessories such as coloured braces, dental jewellery and the more obscure tooth tattoos, where mere smiles can feed lengthy conversations.

"Not many know that tooth jewellery is available in India. Even my colleagues were surprised when they heard about it," says Vaishali Mehta, a high school teacher from Rajkot. She sports a blue 'bindi' on her upper left canine tooth. This tooth jewellery treatment takes one sitting during which a stone (either real or fake) is pasted on the enamel with a bonding agent. This 'bindi' can be used to hide injured surfaces or pigmented spots and looks great in wedding albums, say experts.

"Many youngsters, especially women, come during the wedding season and Navaratri to change their styles," says Rajkot's Dr Tejas Trivedi. The treatment costs between Rs 800 and Rs 2,500 per piece. The more complicated or "schematic" patches which involve making a shape with two or three stones could cost up to Rs 10,000.

With such fun in store at the clinic, the dreaded dentist appointment becomes a pleasurable prospect, almost like a parlour visit. While administering such treatments, even orthodontists tend to appear more human: they don't wield the terrifying drill and they tend to talk about the artwork they are pasting on your enamel.

When dentist Kunjal Patel, for instance, added a sparkle to her left incisor by getting a diamond stuck on her tooth, "patients loved it", she says. "I was very conscious of my smile as people tended to judge me by it," says Dr Patel, who now makes it a point to smile at work.

Another rather fashionable dental procedure that is becoming popular is the tooth tattoo. Only last week, Bandra-based tattoo artist Vikas Lalwani was stumped when a dentist came to him with a ceramic crown and asked him to tattoo it. In this freshly imported form of body art called teeth tattooing, customised, hand-painted artwork is placed onto one's tooth or crown.

The teeth are tattooed by baking coloured porcelain onto the surface of the tooth at a high temperature. This ensures that it will stay attached and clearly visible. As the image is applied directly to the crown, it is non-invasive. "There is no cutting or damage to the actual tooth," says Bangalore's teeth tattoo expert Dr Mir Pooya Mozaffary who gets two or three requests for tattoos every month.

Designs such as butterflies and skulls, he adds, are extremely popular with young boys, and could range anywhere between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000 per piece. While these are chiefly permanent tattoos, Dr Jagadeesh Belur's clinic in Bangalore also boasts of temporary sticker tattoos with smileys that children love.

Then, there are the strange requests. Says Ahmedabad's fashion dentistry specialist Dr Jaimin Patel: "Some people insist on making a healthy tooth appear cracked with a tattoo." In most cases, we hope, the tooth lasts longer than the tattoo.

sharmila.ganesan@timesgroup.com

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