Swords Orthodontics
17 Main St, Swords, Co Dublin, Ireland

What is Beauty? Can you measure it?

What is beauty?

Orthodontists are interested in a combination of things, improving the appearance and function and health of the teeth, and doing this in the most stable way. It's not just about the teeth - you have to take the entire face into account when you are planning the treatment, because you don't want to treat the teeth in isolation. How you treat the teeth has an an effect on how the face will look after treatment. So you want to treat the teeth in a way that has the most beneficial effect on the face.

This is likely to have a positive effect on beauty, but what actually is beauty? Well, wiser people than me have spent many hours thinking about it, and the definitions are along the lines of "that combination of qualities, particularly aesthetic ones, that pleases the senses, particularly sight" where aesthetics are characteristics related to appearance.

Well, that's a bit cumbersome - it's hard to define beauty, but we sort of know what it is when we see it, right?

Well, maybe, maybe not. Beauty depends on a lot of things, and when it comes to faces, teeth and smiles are right at the centre of it.

Can you measure beauty?

Long before I became an orthodontist, when I was a child I loved the TV show "Recordbreakers", about all the things in the Guinness Book of Records (or World Records as it was called in the USA). I used to get the Guinness Book of Records for Christmas and look at my favourite records and see if any of them had been broked in the previous year.

At one stage, as far as I can remember, there was actually an entry for "World's Most Beautiful Woman", which was probably actually the world's most highly paid model, but there was the odd observation that beauty can be measured in "millihelens". If Helen of Troy was so beautiful, she launched a thousand ships, then someone of sufficient beauty to launch one ship had a beauty equivalent to one millihelen.

This probably seemed hilarious back in the 70s, but it's probably of NO practical use to anyone!

Two years ago, there was a very important lecture given at the British Orthodontic Conference about this. Not just beauty, but the general measurements of what is a good smile, a good face, a good profile. It turns out there is:

  1. a wide range of views when someone actually tries to measure what's good (that is we can't really agree on how to measure it)
  2. a wide consensus of what's not attractive (that is we tend to agree on what's so far from ideal that it stands out)
  3. a fairly wide consensus of what's normal enough (and this may vary from one culture to another)

What has this to do with orthodontics?

Well, every orthodontist spends a lot of time learning how the jaws and teeth and mouth and smile fit into to the overall appearance of the face. There are certain features of a good looking face that have been studied over history - from the ancient Greeks to Leonardo Da Vinci to computer generated 3D imaging - and even been given mathematical values, like the Golden Ratio. Orthodontists are used to dealing with these things and able to assess how far facial and dental features are away from normal and ideal, and what would need to be done to resolve that - and then they can have a discussion with the patients as to whether that's desirable, or even practical.

The things that an orthodontist looks for aren't alway figures and measurements, but balance, proportion, and harmony. And assessing these things well takes time and experience, which is why most orthodontists would advise you see an orthodontist who's a registered specialist.

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