When actress Alana Haim appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers last Tuesday, she confessed that after making her debut film role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, she was curious to know if she had received any messages on social media.
“I’m a young, 30-year-old, single gal, so what do you do when you’re a young, 30-year-old, single gal? You go on Instagram and maybe peruse your messages,” she told Seth Myers.
But to her surprise and disappointment, most of the people who had reached out to her were orthodontists.
“Everyone is concerned about my teeth. I love my teeth,” she said, inviting the TV cameras to zoom in on her smile. “But the world of dentistry is not pleased,” she laughed. Haim has one tooth that protrudes slightly over another, it’s her so-called “snaggletooth,” which she said she is “very proud of.”
It’s a normal smile, but one that isn’t often seen in Hollywood, where perfect, straight, white teeth have been the norm for decades. It’s not that actors in the 1970s didn’t have perfect teeth – just a few months ago, actress Lauren Hutton told EL PAÍS that film studios had asked her to fix her iconic tooth gap for the movie American Gigolo. But in Alana Haim’s case, her refusal to do anything about her snaggletooth comes in a context where very few actresses dare to show teeth that are crooked, a bit yellow or simply human. Indeed celebrity dentists, such as Bill Dorman (whose client list includes Britney Spears, Anthony Hopkins, Eva Longoria and Mark Wahlberg), have become a normal part of Hollywood.
But are perfect teeth normal? Doctor Óscar Castro Reino, the president of Spain’s General Council of Dentists, says that the main function of teeth is to cut and grind up food. “They also have an aesthetic role, of course, but this only helps us relate to one another. The color of teeth, for example, does not interfere at all in their true function. For a long time, Hollywood has been selling us an ideal of dental beauty that is totally unreal.”
Castro Reino warns that this obsession for the perfect smile can even lead to pathologies such as bleachorexia, the addiction to having white teeth. This problem has become so widespread in show business that the Hollywood Reporter’s celebrity dentist list includes professionals who specialize in natural-colored teeth.
The origin of Hollywood’s obsession for perfect teeth dates back to the 1930s and the end of the silent movie era. With the advent of sound, studios needed actors who not only looked the part, but also had correct diction. This prompted studios to turn to the stars of New York’s theater scene. But while these professionals could speak the part, they often had crooked teeth. That’s when dentist Charles Pincus arrived on the scene. Hired by the Factor brothers (the founders of global cosmetic brand Max Factor & Company) and the Westmore family (a prominent family of make-up artists), Pincus was able to fix the actors’ teeth in a short period of time. He became a key figure in the industry, creating the smiles of stars such as James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Mae West, Walt Disney and Bob Hope. Pincus was also the first dentist to create dental veneers – up until then, adhesives had been used during filming.
However, what we know today as veneers were not patented until 1983 by dentists John Calamia and Richard Simonsen, who revealed that porcelain could be bonded to etched enamel. Today porcelain veneers – which can cover up stains and nearly any kind of imperfection – are in high demand, and not only in Hollywood. “People are seeing what they understand to be straight teeth on television and in the movies and they ask you for it. Sometimes they even bring in a photo,” says dentist Castro Reino.
This has also prompted beauty clinics to start advertising miracle treatments for perfect teeth. Castro Reino warns: “The problem is that the advertising for these types of sites is not regulated and they create the false perception that people are buying a consumer good and patients trivialize the importance of a medical diagnostic which requires a follow-up that these places often don’t do. Teeth are not a consumer good.”
On Late Night with Seth Meyers, Haim recalled how she wore braces for five years as a teenager, and they left her with the smile she has today. But according to Castro Reino, “a little bit of crowding [of the front teeth] is not going to affect diction, nor the bite. Hers could be an absolutely normal mouth that has absolutely no problems.”
Haim’s teeth certainly didn’t stop her from landing one of the starring roles in Licorice Pizza, a movie set in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley during the 1970s, which follows the adventures and misadventures of two friends. In the movie, Haim’s character Alana even shows up with her less-than-perfect teeth to a casting, where she is told by an agent: “You remind me of a dog. Of an English pitbull dog, with sex appeal and a very Jewish nose.”
Haim herself also grew up in San Fernando Valley and is now one of the indie it-girls of Los Angeles, the city which created the so-called Hollywood smile. She knows that by publicly refusing to fix her teeth despite the multiple offers from orthodontists she is being a true rebel.