If you look at pictures of Keith Richards’s less-than-stellar teeth during the early years of The Rolling Stones, you’d probably just chalk it up to a British thing. But all legends aside about the effects of the rocker lifestyle on his chompers, if you look at him now, he’s got a smile that can pretty much light up a room – albeit in a very Keith Richards sort of way.
He’s not gone on record about it, but it is entirely possible that his 180 on dental salubriousness was due to a serendipitous crossing of the paths with a young New York dentist named Marc Lowenberg. The latter was still in dental school when he was called down to the capital for a large protest of the Vietnam War that was scheduled to take place there.
“There were these marches on Washington [D.C.] called Moratoriums,” he recalls. “I was sent down to act as a medic, and I met the Rolling Stones’ personal physician there. He told me that when I open my practice, I should call him, and he would send them to me.”
He didn’t take it all too seriously. That is, until he soon after found them actually sitting in his dental chair – and the rest is history. Of course, since rock stars tend to talk to other rock stars, word got around; he was soon counting the likes of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Roberta Flack, even Iggy Pop amongst his patients.
“I became a ‘celebrity dentist,’ he jokes. “Because all those musicians knew photographers and hairstylists and makeup artists, and they also sent the actors and the models – I think we were treating every supermodel at the time.”
Fast forward to 2019, and Lowenberg’s success rests on not just the company he keeps, but on the chances he’s taken. He had been roundly castigated by colleagues and the “industry” for being one of the first to make a real practice of cosmetic dentistry. At the time, most considered it a betrayal of the principles taught and learned in dentistry school – and viewed it as little more than a “cash-in” by those willing to offer it.
“Oh, it was terrible,” he remembers. “In New York City I was criticized by every traditional sort of dentist, they called me a quack. Then all those guys that were criticizing it started doing it, because it was very lucrative.”
Indeed, by 2001, a survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) revealed that dollars spent on cosmetic surgery had more than doubled in the five years previous. And Reuters reported recently that 96% of cosmetic dentistry patients were female – meaning that as more men become openly concerned with their physical appearance, growth could skyrocket anew. Porcelain veneers, which came on the market in the ’80s, have led the way, with techniques improving all the time. But nothing has come along to decisively replace them.
What one has to overcome, as with any cosmetic procedure, is the impression that it is all merely being done in the name of vanity. Yet an entire field of study has grown up around the subject of how physical appearance directly affects self-esteem. Lowenberg, who states that he has “definitely changed people’s lives,” even tells the story of a patient in her 40s, whose low sense of self was partly influenced by her unhappiness with her teeth.
“She finally had her teeth fixed with porcelain veneers,” he says. “And the day that I put them in, she was so proud of her new smile, she met a guy in a bar that night, who she ended up marrying. It gave her the confidence to flirt with this guy, which she normally never would have done.”
He does point to Invisalign as an example of how technology is also influencing cosmetic dentistry, by allowing doctors to scan patients’ teeth into a computer. The result is that, rather than wearing wire braces, you’re given a tray that fits onto your teeth, slowly aligning them over a period of up to about 40 weeks.
He enthuses, “That process, which is all technology, is amazing.”
These days, now teamed with partners Dr. Gregg Lituchy and Dr. Brian Kantor as Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor, he continues to look after the teeth of the A-list, those whose public presentation is often essential to their continued success. Just a few? Julianna Margulies, Amanda Peet, Renee Zellweger, Heidi Klum…even Chris Rock, whose mischievous smile is arguably an essential element of his comedic persona.
But perhaps Dr. Lowenberg‘s greatest achievement has been to at last take the dread out of a visit to the dentist. For something that was born under a cloud of suspicion, cosmetic dentistry has gone on to change so many lives for the better – and not just rock stars and movie stars.
“I credit myself with having the temerity to go out on a limb and do something that was not accepted in the dental arena,” he considers. “And because of that, I have been able to perfect the art of cosmetic dentistry – because it is genuinely is an art form.”