Want a Facelift? Try Your Dentist

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 3, 2001 (New York) -- If you're interested in a facelift, maybe you should visit a dentist before a plastic surgeon. Dentists who specialize in an emerging field called functional orthodontics can improve facial beauty, and in some cases, overall health, without the cost, pain, and recovery time and potential risks associated with plastic surgery.

Sound too good to be true? It's not, according to Yosh Jefferson, DMD, a general dentist and functional orthodontist in Mount Holly, N.J. Jefferson, founder of FACES, an organization that studies the treatment of facial aesthetics and jaw problems, has been doing this for more than 15 years. Jefferson discussed the benefits of functional orthodontics here at the recent annual meeting of the Academy of General Dentistry.

Using orthodontic appliances that change the shape of the mouth by manipulating the upper or lower jaw, Jefferson and other functional orthodontists can enhance beauty and eliminate such chronic health problems as sinus infections, headaches, earaches, breathing difficulties and jaw disorders.

"It's noninvasive, less risky, and the cost is significantly less," he says. These devices can be used on children, young adults, and adults. Most people wear the devices for about two years, and they must be worn all the time.

For example, people with long faces tend to have difficulty breathing through their nose because their face is narrow, which may decrease airflow. People with shorter faces, however, have excessive pressure on the jaw joint and may suffer from chronic jaw disorders and headaches.

But widening the cheekbone with a functional device can open up nasal passages and help with breathing while enhancing the shape and profile of the long face.

How do you know own if your face is too long or too short?

It actually dates back to before Leonardo da Vinci. It's called divine or golden proportion and can be seen in an early drawing of d a Vinci's. The face should be 16.18 inches long, assuming the width of the face is about 10 inches.

Greater than this is called the long face-syndrome, and shorter is called the short face syndrome, both which can be corrected with functional orthodontic appliances, Jefferson tells WebMD.

"The further away a person's face is from the ideal proportions and profile, the more likely the person will have certain medical problems," he says.

Generally speaking, these devices manipulate the upper or lower jaw and thus, facial bones, to create a perfect length face and profile and to get rid of related health problems, he says.

Another use of functional orthodontics is in an aging woman whose cheeks and lips began to collapse and develops age lines by her nose. Jefferson says she can wear a small mouth appliance that will widen her upper jaw, push her teeth forward, and round out her cheeks and her lips.

Voila! An instant facelift that eliminates the need for surgery as well as collagen injections to plump up lips.

Howard S. Glazer, DDS, past president of the American Academy of General Dentistry and a dentist in Fort Lee, N.J. and the Bronx, N.Y., says that the whole field of cosmetic dentistry is booming, from jaw manipulation to the increasingly popular tooth whitening, which offers an easier kind of "facelift."

"The first thing people notice is your smile, and people are becoming much more aware of that," he tells WebMD.

Lighter teeth give a more youthful appearance, he says. "Teeth start to look dark and more yellow with age, and in that way tooth whitening is a facelift for a smile," he says.

Darrick Antell, MD, a New York City plastic surgeon who has a dental degree and lectures to orthodontists, says not to expect too much, though. "It's a bit of a stretch to say you can look like you have had a facelift by repositioning teeth," he tells WebMD. Still, lip support does depend on tooth position.

In addition, Antell says, "Orthodontists do alter facial growth and facial shape, but I am not sure what they can do past childhood." Bone and facial structure grow more difficult to mold with advancing age.

"Some have said that you can put caps on teeth and make it look like the person has had a facelift, but I haven't seen any pictures," he tells WebMD. "But orthodontists are part of the [medical community], and it's important to have a nice smile."

Ultimately, Antell says the two professions should work in harmony with one another. For example, facelifts can frame a beautiful smile. "It's like putting a frame around a photograph -- it makes the photograph look nicer," he says.