What Are Perfect Teeth?

Having a few misaligned teeth is a trend in Japan, where cosmetic dentists are making that dream come true.
save teeth now 615.jpg
Losing baby teeth is naïveté leaving the body.

In the Spring of 2012, the world's first "snaggletooth girl group" gave its debut concert. The group wasn't given that label by some execrable critic; the women's teeth are intentionally part of the group's image. The title of their album is Mind If I Bite?

The Tokyo-based group is called TYB48, and their Lou Pearlman-esque founder, Taro Masuoka, is actually a dentist in an upscale part of Tokyo. Masuoka runs a practice called Pure Cure, where he performs a lucrative cosmetic procedure called tsuke-yaeba that purposely gives people crooked teeth. So it works out nicely that he's also promoting the look in pop culture.

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Before tsuke-yaeba (left) and after tsuke-yaeba (right).
Via google translator: "example of your worries resolved"

As Japan Today put it, yaeba means "'multilayered' or 'double' tooth, and describes the fanged look achieved when molars crowd the canines and push them forward." They report it as a uniquely feminine trend: "Japanese women of all ages [are] flocking to dental clinics to have temporary or permanent artificial canines ... glued to their teeth." It's been gaining in popularity over the past few years.

Masuoka's dental practice shot a commercial to sell the experience, below. (Heads up, the pace makes it almost unwatchable. It really starts to test you at the 2:10 mark when they spend 20 full seconds reclining her dental chair. And then zero seconds showing what they actually do to her teeth.)

So, why is this happening?

Masuoka has said the look "gives girls an impish cuteness." Emile Zaslow, an associate professor at Pace University, explained it more malignantly to The New York Times: "The naturally occurring yaeba is because of delayed baby teeth, or a mouth that's too small ... It's this kind of emphasis on youth and the sexualization of young girls."

That notion would make it only more troubling that Masuoka gives a "half-price discount ... for middle school and high school students."

SHARK300200.jpgAvril Lavigne, age 28  [DonaldTraill/AP]

But at the same time it's sensational and xenophobic to imply that a country is full of pedophilic men and aggressively submissive women "flocking" to gratify their deviance, right? We might also question the basic biology behind widespread assertions that yaeba are a "young girls" appearance. Overcrowded teeth should become most prominent late in development, when the third (and sometimes fourth) molars come in and really push things together (late teens, early twenties). It's also not like protuberant teeth spontaneously dissolve in adulthood -- see the ageless appeal of Avril Lavigne, Jewel, Joe DiMaggio, and Kirsten Dunst. And of course, Steve Buscemi.

Explaining trends in beauty is usually equal parts fascinating and frustrating, and rarely logical. As Verena Delle Donne at the University of Madrid wrote in "How Can We Explain Beauty?" -- beauty is "what we like, what is fascinating, interesting, great, maybe funny or inspiring to us."  

The yaeba trend is, at least, an opportunity to remember how easy it is to dismiss aesthetic trends that don't strike us; and maybe that puts insecurities about one's own appearances into perspective. Wanting artificially misaligned teeth might sound absurd, but then, why is coveting Kate Middleton's perfect nose more plausible? Widening one's frame of reference is cheaper and easier than surgically altering (or generally failing to appreciate) teeth and noses and other bodily parts of all varieties. There is someone somewhere who would go to lengths to get whatever feature another person dislikes most about himself. That person finds it beautiful and inspiring and maybe even dislikes himself a little for not having it. Said feature might even qualify that person to sing in a synth-pop harmony group.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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