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Smile: A gap-toothed grin is in

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, at 12 a.m.

The woman on Page 56 of the new Victoria’s Secret catalog has long blond hair, a taut midriff, mile-long legs — and a big ol’ gap between her two front teeth.

The headline: Sexy in Sweats.

The fashion gods have spoken. Flawless pearly whites? That’s so 2011, so ordinary. Imperfect smiles are in.

Incisors with that distinctive little interval have ruled runways and ad campaigns for a few seasons now, and have you noticed the bumper crop on TV? Elisabeth Moss and Jessica Pare on “Mad Men” are both gap-toothed. So is Oscar winner Anna Paquin on “True Blood.”

“I think we’re getting away from that cookie-cutter image. … I think this is kind of breaking the mold,” says Kim Hoffman, owner of Hoffman International modeling agency in Overland Park, Kan.

And while women are not yet having gaps installed, the rush to have all teeth touching may be slowing.

The gap-toothed have long been among us, as musicians (Madonna, Elton John, Amy Winehouse) and goofballs (Eddie Murphy, David Letterman, Alfred E. Neuman). You couldn’t miss ex-football player Michael Strahan’s imperfect, infectious, face-splitting grin when he took Regis Philbin’s place next to Kelly Ripa on daytime TV this month. In Tampa, Condoleezza Rice smiled big for the cameras at the Republican convention.

Even golfer Tom Watson has been described by countless sportswriters over the years as having a gap-toothed grin/grimace/smile, depending largely on how his putts have dropped.

At the moment, the fashion world can’t get enough of Lindsey Wixson, Lara Stone and Mick Jagger’s daughter Georgia May, all models with dental divides, all of whom are modeling for the biggest designers — Prada, Chanel, Calvin Klein.

When Wixson was growing up in Wichita, other girls made fun of her spatially challenged smile. Dentists asked if she wanted braces to close the gap.

“My parents didn’t think I needed braces because my teeth were straight,” she said by e-mail on her way to Europe.

Now she’s a teenage supermodel, one of fashion’s It Girls, appearing in one photo shoot after another.

So who’s grinning now?

Lusty? Lucky? Lovely? Gap teeth have been all those through the ages.

In “The Canterbury Tales,” Geoffrey Chaucer’s wife of Bath had gap teeth and the lustful leanings associated in folkloric tradition. In Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries, a woman with gap teeth is considered beautiful and fertile.

The French call them “les dents du bonheur,” teeth of happiness. (Except, one could argue, in the case of French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis. Yes, she models Chanel lipstick with her quirky choppers, but she also recently split up with Johnny Depp, a self-described lover of “teeth that aren’t perfect.”)

“Celebrities tend to dictate to some people how we look, how we act,” said Merle Nunemaker, legislative chairman for the Missouri Dental Association and a dentist in south Kansas City. “But most of my patients, given the opportunity, would like to have those gaps fixed.”

The space between the upper incisors — called a diastema — can be from several causes, orthodontists said, such as teeth too small for the jawbone. An extra tooth between the incisors could be forming behind the scenes, keeping them apart.

It could be a family tendency. If a labial frenulum, tissue that attaches the middle of the upper lip to the gum, passes between the incisors, it can keep them from closing.

Not surprisingly, orthodontists are not big fans of the gap-toothed smile.

“Usually there is a problem associated with it. Maybe the bite is off or less than desirable, which could create problems with chewing or wearing down the enamel,” said John Buzzatto, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, who practices outside Pittsburgh.

Pare, who plays Don Draper’s latest wife on “Mad Men,” reportedly landed the role because the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, loved her quirky grin. But it has taken years for those smiles to be in vogue.

When ’70s supermodel Lauren Hutton started working, high-power modeling agent Eileen Ford told her to get her teeth fixed. Instead, Hutton wore a piece of wax to hide the gap until, the story goes, legendary photographer Richard Avedon refused to let her wear it. Her trademark was born.

Actress Paquin is fiercely proud of her calling-card smile and thinks it’s rude of people to ask why she hasn’t “fixed” her smile.

“If you have a whole bunch of work done with your teeth, your face and your boobs, then you’re only going to play modern people,” she said in one interview. “That’s a big choice to make. Very limiting.”

Trends in fashion are as changeable as, well, trends in fashion, but this love affair with the imperfect goes beyond the teeth.

“You’re noticing a lot of models these days are no longer the ‘perfect’ model,” said Jennifer Mangan, president of Exposure Inc. modeling agency in Overland Park.

“I have a couple of girls doing great in New York and Europe who wouldn’t be considered … I mean they’re very pretty girls, but they would never be considered the beauties next door, but it all works together.”

Agency owner Hoffman adds: “I think because the fashion designers are saying it’s cool and it’s going to be all over the magazines, now it’s going to tell girls, ‘Here I thought I was an ugly duckling and now I’m accepted, I’m actually in.’

“I think it’s going to be a trend that’s going to hit women who haven’t had their teeth fixed really, really hard. A parent of a girl that sees this might say, ‘Hey honey, you’re the hottest thing in New York.’ ”

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