What price beauty?

09 October 2020
3 min read

The relationship between dentistry and the mainstream media has long been far from ideal. It is perhaps the nature of the beast that important health information and positive stories struggle to see the light of day whilst scandal and intrigue are magnified – no matter how representative of dentistry they are (or how true).

Very occasionally, however, the stars align and allow for a news item which the media is interested in which gives an opportunity for positive dental messaging – such was the case recently when Katie Price (or Jordan for those of a certain vintage) posted pictures of herself on social media in Turkey getting new veneers.

The fact that the former glamour model would have such a treatment is in itself not surprising – for the observant out there, there are a couple of rather prominent clues that she is happy to engage in elective cosmetic surgery – but what people found shocking was the reality of the treatment itself. The sight of the spiked stumps poking out from behind her oversized lips was perhaps the first time many people will have considered the damage some treatments have to an individual’s natural teeth – and the potential downsides to overly invasive treatments carried out in the name of aesthetics. As such, it began a much-needed discussion in the media about these treatments and what price, financial and biological, was worth paying in the pursuit of beauty.

One of the best interviews which took place was with BACD representative Sam Jethwa, speaking on the BBC’s You and Yours programme. Speaking generally on the subject he was at pains to stress that there is nothing wrong with cosmetic dentistry in and of itself. Whilst there are circumstances where it is done badly or unethically, causing unnecessary damage to natural dentition, it is perfectly possible to have good quality aesthetic treatments which are safe and predictable and in line with the patient’s oral health needs. (This is a subject discussed on page 34 of this issue by Ash Parmar and Manish Chitnis; the authors consider the best way to ethically serve patients cosmetic treatments.)

On the specifics of Katie Price’s treatment there are several factors which should be considered. There are the medico-legal implications of getting treatment abroad, outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the GDC, and there is also the issue of informed consent given the potential  misunderstanding/misrepresentation of treatments. Sam explained, “With what we are seeing with the photograph of Katie Price, the title ‘Veneers’ is quite misleading, given that these are actually not veneers, and a lot of the people who are travelling to various clinics – whether it is UK or abroad – are actually being prescribed treatments which are far more destructive than what a veneer would be… what Katie Price is showing us, and it is quite alarming in this image that has been going around on social media, is the result of repeated crowns on teeth. A lot of those teeth have had further treatments, such as root canal treatments, and ultimately she will lose those teeth very soon.”

An interesting theme throughout the debates over Ms Price’s treatment was the perceived role her celebrity played. It seemed to be that many were less interested in whether the treatment was right or wrong for her as an individual, and more concerned with the impact it might have on other people. I am unsure of the logic of this. Whether a treatment is right or wrong is a matter for the individual patient and his or her clinician, and if a treatment is unethical then that is the case regardless of whether the patient is a celebrity or not. And though I understand and share the concerns people have about the importance of influencers, perhaps we should be taking a bottom up approach to the issue and questioning who people are using as role models. We need a broader societal discussion over who we want our children to look to when forming their value system or making important, potentially life-changing, decisions – using reality TV stars and topless models seems like a recipe for things to go tits up!