How Hollywood Invented Porcelain Veneers

Dec 11, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats

These days, when we want to say someone has a perfect smile, or to describe what a perfect smile is, we often use the shorthand of a “Hollywood smile,” and this is really apt, because it was Hollywood’s demand for perfection that led to the invention of porcelain veneers.

Aspiring to Purity, Suffering Decay

Hollywood Porcelain VeneersWith the advent of talking pictures in 1928, Hollywood suddenly had even higher demands of its actors than it had during the silent era. During the silent film era, a star just needed to have a pretty face, be able to pose just like so, and make a few pantomimes. They didn’t have to memorize and deliver lines, which required special skills. And they didn’t have to have the right voice for their role. Many silent actors were forced to retire because they didn’t have great voices, didn’t have voices that matched the characters they played, or sometimes didn’t speak English.

Although some stars made the transition–such as the fast-talking duet of William Powell and Myrna Loy, stars of The Thin Man–Hollywood was left looking for a new crop of stars who were skilled at what the studios regarded as a “new” art. As a result, they recruited many New York stage stars to take their turn in front of the camera.

The only problem was, many of these stars didn’t have the best teeth. Remember, this is during the low point of oral health in America, when increased access to sugar has increased the risk of decay, but toothbrushing hasn't become standard, and dentistry hasn’t caught up on prevention. People at this time were three times more likely to lose their teeth than generations born after the 1940s.

So, Hollywood would either have to settle for less-than-perfect smiles or for stars with great smiles who couldn’t deliver their lines.

Giving Smiles to Stars

Hollywood settle? That’s crazy talk! Instead, the studios harnessed some of that good ol American know-how and came up with a solution.

The challenge fell to Max Factor, whose makeup essentially  invented Hollywood glamour. He reached out to cosmetic dentist Charles L. Pincus to do for stars’ teeth what Factor’s makeup did for their faces.

Pincus invented temporary facades for teeth that could be stuck on using denture powder, then removed. These first porcelain veneers were truly porcelain in the way we think of it, and in addition to being very white, they were also very fragile. Stars couldn’t eat with the veneers in, and had to be careful not to chip them when delivering lines. Stars developed a routine: put in teeth, then, for some aging stars, use tape to smooth out wrinkles, then have makeup put on, just before the camera started rolling. On film it all looked so perfect, but many people were disappointed if they met the stars in person.

It wasn’t until 1938 that Pincus described his innovation to the California Dental Association. By that time, he had moved on to acrylic teeth which were a little more durable than porcelain, but they were still temporary restorations. Once the word was out, all of the nation’s dentists began aspiring to give their own patients a film-worthy smile.

We’ve Come a Long Way

Pincus’ innovation was just the beginning, and since then technology has advanced tremendously. Now, we not only have veneers that can last ten years or more, but the technology is within the reach of nearly anyone who aspires to that perfect smile.

If you would like to learn more about getting your own “Hollywood” smile, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with a Grapevine cosmetic dentist at Grapevine Dental Care.