A person’s eyes or smile are the first thing you notice about them, claims Dr Michael Apa, who owns a private aesthetic dentistry practice based in New York City, and is something of a celebrity dentist in the UAE, too. “Your smile is the first thing that people, from the outside, can see from the inside of you, and how you take care of yourself,” says the doctor. “If you have really bad, broken-down or missing teeth, you would associate that with an unhealthy person, and if you have beautiful, white, shiny teeth, you would associate that with a healthy person.”
We meet at his clinic, Apa Aesthetics, in Jumeirah, and Apa's own smile is sparkly white. You might recognise his name from social media – socialites, in particular fashion and beauty bloggers, or "influencers" as they like to call themselves these days, often take selfies with the handsome dentist and post them on Instagram. But while Apa may have a clientele of divas and high-flyers, he is humble and gracious when we catch a few moments with him during a three-day visit to Dubai – a trip the New Yorker makes every fortnight.
Apa graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry and has been in the business for 13 years. Last year, he opened his first international clinic in Dubai, after being frequently flown over to work on the mouths of high-profile clients, royalty and all. Apa’s approach to aesthetic dentistry, called Facial Aesthetic Design (FAD) involves recontouring a smile with the use of porcelain veneers, customised to a person’s overall facial features. While it’s his most popular treatment, the porcelain veneers don’t come cheap – the procedure ranges in cost from about Dh145,000 to Dh295,000. Apa’s clinic contains an on-site lab, as well as a special surgery room for VIP clients.
The most costly service Apa Aesthetics offers involves transforming an entire mouth with porcelain veneers in a single day, priced at around Dh370,000 – and is aimed mostly at clients who lead busy lives and travel often. “We usually do at least one of these every time I come,” says Apa. “It takes 24 hours, so they can come in at 9am on a Saturday and leave at noon on a Sunday with their new teeth in.
“I realise that what I do isn’t for everyone, I realise that it’s very expensive, and I can only treat so many people,” admits Apa. While he continues to travel between the two cities to treat clients, he has just launched a side project, Apa Beauty, which offers customers a range of beauty-meets-dentistry products. The Radiance Care kit from Apa Beauty, for example, includes a lip loofah, blue lip shine and tooth gloss, which come in small, compact tubes that can easily fit inside handbags. The lip loofah is a sugar scrub, which removes dead skin and rejuvenates lips, and the blue crystals in the lip shine make your teeth brighter by reflecting light onto them. The tooth gloss, Apa explains, is inspired by fashion models’ use of Vaseline to make their teeth shinier during shoots. “It’s petroleum-based, and has things in it that are anti-cavity, and it also has a very strong delicious peppermint flavour, like gum or a mint.”
Apa had support from the Estée Lauder team while designing, packaging and testing the products, and he recruited home-furnishings designer Jonathan Adler to create a stylish tray for the Apa White kit, in which toothpaste and oral-care products can be stored and displayed.
“My goal with my clinic and the products is really to try to change the way people think about dentistry. For some odd reason it’s got a pretty bad reputation,” he says. Apa explains that the industry is perceived as being need-based, rather than desire-based, like the fields of cosmetics and beauty. Dental products, he says, are found for the most part in pharmacies, next to items like deodorant.
“It just wasn’t very luxurious – and it doesn’t need to be expensive to be luxurious – but the products are an attempt to excite people and make them feel the same experience they do when putting on make-up or taking care of their skin or hair,” he says. Future plans include the creation of around-the-mouth skincare products, with a mask to help with smile lines and laugh lines, Apa reveals.
We end the conversation with Apa’s top tips for keeping teeth clean and healthy, and his biggest recommendation is to buy an electric toothbrush. “Manual toothbrushes are fine if you’re a pro at brushing, which 99 per cent of people are not,” he says. He also advises that we spend at least two minutes brushing our teeth, buy brushes with soft bristles and replace them at least every six months. In addition, we should look for hydroxyapatite (a more expensive version of fluoride) when buying toothpastes. Naturally, it’s a key ingredient in the recently launched Apa White toothpaste.