If the idea of taking 10 or 20 years off your appearance sounds appealing, but cosmetic surgery seems too drastic or dangerous, there is another option. Cosmetic dentistry is catching on among those who want a big change in their looks without a big ordeal. It's painless, non-invasive, and the dentist's tools have come a long way since braces and chalky-looking bonding.

"The smile is one of the most positive emotions," explains Manhattan dentist Larry Rosenthal. "Cosmetic dentistry is the ability to change the appearance of a tooth or a row of teeth, and more importantly, it's the ability to change the way someone smiles. Today, using smile design principles, we can make teeth look very real and very natural, and make people look 10, 20 years younger," he adds. "I love watching a patient look in the mirror and say, 'Oh God, that's me? I've waited for years to look like this.' It's a very rewarding profession."

Something of a celebrity in the once dowdy field of dentistry, Rosenthal has developed a treatment he calls a "smile lift." Through word of remade-mouths, he has won a devoted following among the famous and rich, some of whom jet into New York from other continents to change their lives by having him change their teeth.

Cosmetic Dentistry: Designing A New You

Rosenthal achieves these transformations through the combination of a state-of-the-art technology called porcelain veneering — a process whereby little ceramic covers are custom-made for and attached to individual teeth — and a cosmetic surgeon's eye. In fact, many cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists refer patients to Rosenthal to achieve alterations for which collagen injections or surgery used to be the only alternatives.

"We call it a 'smile lift,'" he explains, "because the corners of the mouth, as you get older, turn down. That has a connotation of a frown, of aging, of skin starting to sag a little bit. Some young people have it too, by the way. What we do is, by building the tips of the sides of the teeth out, we're able to support the lips. And the pink part of the lip, it's called the 'vermillion border,' will roll up, and all of a sudden your lip will be fuller permanently. It's all because the teeth were set in the right place and were designed properly. That is the essence of true smile design."

Needless to say, Rosenthal feels the perfect smile should also feature near perfect, but always natural looking teeth. Whether a patient's teeth are discolored, chipped, crooked, or gapped, Rosenthal can design a renovation plan that might include some combination of bleaching, laser gum contouring, and porcelain veneers. With each new patient, he first sits down to discuss the problems that need to be fixed, and the overall effect the patient wants to achieve. "We'll design and shape teeth according to the personality, the look and size of a person, even their hair and eye color will come into play. It has evolved truly into an art form," says Rosenthal, who uses computer images during the planning process to show the patient what he or she would look like when the work is done.