For some strange reason, Katie Couric’s smile has always bothered me.  Don’t get me wrong, she is a beautiful woman and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her, but one would think that someone would have told her that when she smiles she shows too much of her gums.  As a periodontist, I not only treat all different types of gum diseases and place dental implants, but I also do a lot of cosmetic periodontal procedures.  The issue with Katie Couric’s smile has nothing to do with her teeth, and everything to do with her gums.  This a very common dental problem commonly known as a “gummy smile“.  This article is not meant to criticize her smile, but instead to use her celebrity to shed light on a very common cosmetic dental problem that can be fixed very easily by a periodontist in less than an hour.

When people smile, sometimes the appearance of their upper teeth is overshadowed by excessive gum tissue.  Most people that have this problem simply think that they were born with short teeth. This could not be further from the truth.  These individuals, including Katie Couric, have a condition that is commonly called a “gummy smile”, properly termed excessive gingival display or gingival hyperplasia.  Gummy smiles can have a negative affect on the esthetics of your smile. The good news is that a gummy smile can be corrected through various treatment options.

If you look closely at Katie Couric’s smile you sill see several problems:

1) All of her teeth appear too short because they are covered with too much gum tissue.

2) The gum line does not follow the contour of her upper lip.

3) The gum height on her two front teeth are way off. Her left front tooth appears much longer that her right front tooth.

The good news is that all of these problems can easily be fixed with cosmetic periodontal treatment.

Causes of a Gummy Smile

There are several possible causes of gummy smile, including:

  • An excessive display of gum tissue in your upper jaw can result from the abnormal eruption of the teeth. Teeth covered by excessive gum tissue appear short, even though they may actually be the proper length.
  • The muscle that controls the movement of your upper lip could be hyperactive, causing your upper lip to rise up higher than normal. When this occurs, more of your gum tissue is exposed when you smile.
  • The manner in which your upper jaw bone grew and developed could cause the appearance of a gummy smile. For instance, if there was an excessive bulging protrusion of the upper jaw within the gum tissue, you would experience an obvious gummy appearance when you smile.

Gummy Smile: Golden Proportion Of Man

It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but there are strong cultural influences, universal appeals and even personal experiences that make some faces more naturally appealing and attractive than others. While it may be true that no two people may exactly agree, research data indicates that there is certainly a definitive range within which most people will acknowledge that a smile, face, or even an inanimate object is appealing and attractive, if not beautiful.  Here are some of the fundamental reasons why we subconsciously feel this way; think about these words: youth, symmetry, harmony, balance, and proportion. Let’s see how they apply from nature to beauty:

Leonardo Divinci’s Golden Proportion Of Man

The perception of beauty varies from individual to individual and is determined by their personal experience, cultural influences and social environment as stated before. We come to define what our culture regards as beautiful in a general sense. Moreover, the appreciation of beauty is learned from parents and peers, and to some mysterious extent is probably innate.  Many of the proportions of a beautiful face, when measured, fall within the parameters of the so-called “Golden Proportions“. Beauty in flowers, butterflies, even certain man made creations like buildings and cars, have an innate appeal which is the manifestation of this defined proportionality, intrinsic to their design.

The Rule of Golden Proportion otherwise known as the Divine Proportion was recognized by Phidias a Greek Sculptor for being a commonality in size and shape for spirals and patterns found in nature. This became know as the Fibonacci Series, and has a beauty and magic that is found in many of natures most beautiful creations from butterfly wings to the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

In teeth, this proportion is a guide for dentists to determine the amount of tooth you see when you smile.  If a lateral incisor is “x” then the amount of tooth you see when you smile would translate to your front tooth would be 1.618X more than the lateral and the canine (because it is twisted slightly) would allow you to see .618X . In other words the dentist can use this as a guide for the amount of width of tooth you see when you smile. It is only a guide or starting point for a dentist.  There are proportions used such as the width of the face divided by 16 and the length of the face divided by 16 will correspond with the width and length of your front tooth! Notice it is the same number as the Golden Proportion!

There are other ratios that can be applied to teeth to help a dentist find the most pleasing length and width such as a 75-80% length to width ratio. This has been shown to create sexy full teeth and is also a guide by which sizes of teeth can be extrapolated. The optimal smile line appearance should reveal the least amount of gum tissue possible. Gum tissue visible in the smile line should have balanced, even contours that are in harmony with the upper lip. It is for this reason that many people with a gummy smile or excessive gingival display feel their smile to be unattractive, oftentimes feeling reluctant to smile at all.

Gummy Smile Treatments

If you think you have a gummy smile, visit a periodontist for confirmation and treatment options. The periodontist will examine your mouth, teeth and gums to determine the extent of the excessive gingival display and any possible causes. This examination may involve conventional and/or digital impressions of your teeth and gums. You may also need X-ray imaging so that the tooth roots and jaw bone can be carefully examined.

Depending on the nature of your specific clinical condition, treatment for your gummy smile could include one or more of the following:

  • Same-day laser treatments (in minor cases).
  • Surgical lip repositioning.
  • Orthodontics (braces) to move the teeth into more suitable positions.
  • Surgical Sculpting of the gingival tissues and bone to create healthier and more attractive looking gum contours. (Gum Lift, Esthetic Crown Lengthening)
  • Maxillofacial surgery to reposition the bone.

The most common of the above mentioned procedures is the gum lift or esthetic crown lengthening.  During this procedure, the periodontist will remove the excess gum tissue – and possibly bone – in order to expose more of the tooth’s surface. This Surgical sculpting procedure can be performed on one or more teeth to create an even gum line or a more natural looking smile.

As a result, gummy smile sufferers see more of their teeth when they smile and less of their gums.  The benefits of crown lengthening procedures include increased comfort and confidence when smiling, eating and speaking, as well as improved periodontal (gum tissue) health.