Why Hollywood Stars Are Paying Big Bucks for Imperfect Teeth

Illustration by: Wesley Bedrosian

Veneers that look real are taking over as dentists to Scarlett  Johansson and Tom  Hanks revise the shiny white Chiclets of yore and "purposefully put in imperfections."

When Ben Foster was prepping for his role in 2016 neo-Western Hell or High Water, he wanted his character to appear rough, so he bought a drill bit and went at his own front tooth. The producers were so horrified that they wouldn't let him on set and sent him to a local New Mexico dentist to cap the fracture. The next year, he landed a role in the film Hostiles with Christian Bale and decided to unveil his handiwork once again — but eventually realized he needed to restore his Hollywood smile, visiting the practice of New York dentists Marc Lowenberg, Gregg Lituchy and Brian Kantor to more permanently fix the tooth with a porcelain veneer.

Most stars are more self-conscious than Foster, says Kantor, citing a 40-something A-lister who was due to present at the Emmys one year. "He had a small chip on his veneer and I met him at the office to fix it," Kantor says of the last-minute repair. And when Christy Turlington cracked a veneer while vacationing in Italy with husband Ed Burns, she tracked Lituchy down in Florence. "I remembered that Gregg was in the country," says the model-filmmaker. "He escorted me to a local dentist and supervised. I was so grateful. My smile has always been considered my best trait, in life and professionally."

Smiles are so important and veneers so prevalent in Hollywood that actors and other industry professionals with yellowed or crooked teeth can look out of step and have difficulty landing jobs. "An actress in her late 30s just came to me because she was getting callbacks but not getting hired," says Beverly Hills dentist David Keen, who counts Liev Schreiber, Johnny Depp and Amy Poehler among his patients. "We did a smile makeover, and right after she landed a sitcom."

Hollywood knows the value of megawatt smiles and treats those who grant them accordingly. “I had great seats on the floor and there was this guy next to me who seemed to know everyone,’’ says Amir Korangy, publisher of The Real Deal. “During halftime Heidi Klum came over and hugged him, then 50 Cent gave him a big greeting. I asked him if he was in the film business, and he shrugged and said, ‘I’m Gregg Lituchy, their dentist.’ The last time I went to his office, there were Bruce Springsteen and Jim Dolan.’’

Career-enhancing transformations don't come cheap. A full-smile redo usually places porcelain veneers on 16 to 20 teeth, with an average cost of $2,000 to $4,000 per tooth, running upwards of $60,000. Since porcelain laminates gained popularity in the early '80s, they have been continually perfected. "If you look at films with Faye Dunaway or Diane Keaton in the '90s, you can see they've had veneers on the upper teeth but not the lower, and they don't match," says Lowenberg. "Now that has all been fixed." (At least, unlike other dramatic esthetic work, smile makeovers have no downtime: Usually a patient visits the dentist once to have teeth prepped, leaves with temporaries that generally look better than the original teeth, then returns a week later to receive the veneers.) Gag-inducing impression molds have gone by the wayside in favor of digital scanners, and dentists no longer aggressively shave down healthy teeth to make way for new porcelain layers. "We don't remove as much of the natural tooth anymore, and where there is no protrusion, we can use 'no prep' veneers," says New York dentist Lana Rozenberg, whose patients include Scarlett Johansson and Justin Theroux.

Laminate life spans also have increased, says Beverly Hills dentist Kevin Sands, who tends to the teeth of Emma Stone and Justin Bieber: "I now tell my patients that they should last 15 to 20 years."

For industry insiders, machine-cut veneers won't do. Handmade facings, layered on in an artistic and complex process, duplicate the translucent appearance of a natural tooth, keeping top dentists and their ceramicists in high demand. "It's about who is behind the brush now, and the patients are very specific," says Sands. "Women will now say, 'I want edges that are more rounded and feminine,' " adds Lituchy. He and his partners lured alpha ceramicist Jason Kim into exclusively joining their practice, building him a state-of-the-art lab and leaving other top-tier dentists from New York to L.A. scrambling for a replacement. At a recent Knicks game (Lituchy and Lowenberg are the team's dentists), a colleague buttonholed Lituchy and begged him to let Kim take on just one case outside their group. "It was a major A-list actress and he said he didn't trust anyone else with it," says Lituchy. (Kim declined.)

This year, natural tones and sizes have overtaken the tooth trend of large, too-white Chiclets. "Half of my cases are now revisions,'' says Beverly Hills dentist Jon Marashi, who takes care of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Kate Hudson, Tom Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix, Pink and Cher. “As cosmetic dentistry started gaining awareness it became a badge of honor to have veneers, like carrying a designer bag, but now it’s like plastic surgery — people don’t want to look as if they’ve had anything done,” he adds. "I purposefully put in imperfections that capture the personality of a face.''

Marashi recently advised the lead actor on a long-running CBS action series, who was unhappy with his new veneers, to bring in old photos. "It was insane how big and white his teeth were. He brought a high school shot where his teeth were small and a little yellow, with a chip in the front tooth," recalls Marashi. "He looked better with imperfections. I created teeth that were pretty close to the original with subtle improvements, like he never had dental work. They fit his face, like having scruff. I even designed the chip back on the front.'' The custom veneer job set the TV star back only $35,000.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.