Americans regularly fork over $5,000 to fix a crooked smile with braces. But in Japan, women are spending about $400 for just the opposite. On the other side of the planet, imperfect teeth are becoming a thing of beauty.
Japan's beauty trend, dubbed "tseuke-yaeba," has reached a fever pitch, with young women paying hundreds for snaggleteeth.
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The procedure first made headlines in 2011, but it has grown in popularity since then, even spawning a Japanese pop girl group whose members sport the snaggletooth look. The girl group, TYB48 or "Tseuke-Yaeba 48," was created by the Taro Masuoka—the very same dentist who pioneered the procedure.
"A lot of my patients are fashion-conscious and very cute. I wanted to find some way to take advantage of this, so I formed TYB48," Masuoka, of Tokyo's Pure Cure dental salon, told Japan Today.
The group whose debut album titled "Mind If I Bite?" dropped last April, turned the child-like vampire mouth into a bona-fide phenomenon. But they're far from Japan's first famous females with mangled mouths. See the smiles on the country's popular news anchor Mika Sugisaki and Japan's crown princess Masako.
[The trend may seems out of step with American dentistry, but in Japan—where fashion trends often take their cue from child-like physical attributes—it's a thing of beauty. Masuoka claims the snaggletooth look gives his patients an "impish beauty" that is considered "endearingly attractive" to men. He's even reportedly offered middle school and high-school aged patients a half-price discount on the procedure if they bring identification. (The procedure, which can be temporary or permanent, involves cementing exaggerated veneers onto each canine tooth.)
Roland Kelts, author of the book Japan America, theorizes the rise of the "impish" mouth may have a psychological link. "The 'girl next door' look of accessibility and plainness is especially popular in Japan right now partly, I think, because Japanese men feel so weak in the face of a stagnant economy and fast-shifting gender roles," Kelts told Yahoo! Shine. "Marriage and birth rates in Japan are at historic lows. A too-perfect set of teeth, or anything else, can be intimidating when your role in society is imperiled."
Shifting gender roles and a growing insecurity of men in the workplace? Sounds familiar. If that's partly behind the snaggletooth trend in Japan, could twisted dental implants make their way to the United States any time soon?
Detail of the snaggletooth look. photo: Facebook"Gain popularity in US? No!" Dr. Jacqueline Fulop Goodling, a New York-based orthodontist, tells Shine. "Americans have spent billions of dollars educating ourselves on the effects of good oral hygiene... We care about the way our teeth look but we care more about if they are healthy."
Dr. Michael Sinkin, a Manhattan dentist, agrees that it's a cultural difference that has little chance of translating overseas. "When someone goes for cosmetic dentistry, some people want something perfect—'chiclet teeth.' Other people want a natural look. Culturally, that can vary. It's almost like a fashion statement," he told Shine. "I had a Japanese patient once who came in for some work and she was unhappy with the result, because she felt they looked too American, too perfect."
And, according to Dr. Joseph Banker, a cosmetic dentist from Creative Dental Care, the health risks just aren't worth it. "Although the procedure may seem non-invasive, the underlying teeth can be damaged in several ways. The additional length may cause stress on the teeth and can increase the risk of a tooth fracture." Messing with front canines in particular can lead to jaw problems, tooth decay and bacteria build-up, he says.
In the U.S., extreme cosmetic dentistry veers largely on the side of symmetry. "People come in and want well-aligned, perfectly white teeth with beautiful digital contours; they want a beautiful smile, beautiful facial aesthetics," Dr. Mark Yanosky, an orthodontist in Birmingham, Alabama, told the L.A. Times last year. It's become more than just straight teeth—he calls the approach "smile aesthetics."
According to a 2012 study by the University of Texas, 40% of people said they wouldn't date a person with crooked teeth, and 73% said that people with straight teeth are trustworthier.
But "trustworthy" doesn't always account for sex appeal. Consider some of our own snaggle-tooth trendsetters: actresses like Kirsten Dunst, Anna Paquin and the vampire-hunks of Twilight. Uneven front teeth may also account for some music fans in the states. "Gotye has made me realize that I have a crush on crooked teeth," wrote one XOJane blogger. "Those chompers seriously give me shivers of pleasure."
We can skip the dental work—who needs to pay for bad teeth when you've already got them? But maybe Japan's tseuke-yaeba movement will encourage us to embrace our natural selves, snaggletooth and all.