Laurence Rifkin had been applying traditional dentistry techniques in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills for 14 years until the sculpture, painting and drawing classes he enrolled in changed the way he practiced. Until the early 1990s, his cosmetic and reconstructive surgery patients could not truly envision what their dental characteristics were going to look like until his work was complete. But he has been creating wax and silicone rubber facsimiles of his patients' mouths to provide a blueprint of the end result. Staff reporter David Greenberg talked with Rifkin about the art of making a beautiful smile.

"I had combined majors of pre-med and art at California State Long Beach in 1968 to 1972 and got my doctorate in dentistry from USC in 1976. As I was performing cosmetic dentistry, I realized there must be a faster and better way to achieve the optimal result because the porcelain crowns and veneers that came back from the laboratory were sometimes not angled to the patients face.

"I realized it wasn't their fault. They didn't have enough information about the patient's face to make certain that the teeth fit in harmony with the patient's face.

"The goal is to create a beautiful, natural smile through undetectable dentistry. First, I start with plaster molds and photographs of the teeth. The photographs are used to reshape the contours and color of the teeth using overlay drawings and computer imaging. I do wax sculptures of the newly designed teeth and (molded) silicone rubber to make the lip replica.

"The unique part of this is the lip and facial replica, from the bottom of the nose to the chin. I provide many artistic techniques in the design and fabrication of someone's smile. This may include the teeth, gum tissue, and sometimes even lip form. As far as I know, there are very few practitioners in the world using this technique.

"I have 50 to 100 patients a year that this technique is employed. They range from trauma victims to people with old dentistry (or) who were born with unattractive teeth to celebrities whose public image requires looking their best. The (pre-surgery sculpting work) costs $500 to $1,000. But I've had many patients come to me that have had tens of thousands of dollars of work done recently and wanted it replaced because it was not what they anticipated."

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