Dental Marketing Meets Book Publicity: ‘Smilorexia’ and The Linguistically Innovative Dentist

'Smilorexia' - the addiction to cosmetic dentistryA former cosmetic dentist has been on the PR circuit preaching about about the dangers of excessive cosmetic dentistry, and he’s coined a new term to describe it: smilorexia.

Dr. Michael Zuk has recently published a book entitled Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist, and his new word was featured in the NY Times blog piece “Smilorexia & the Veneer Nazis.”

According to Dr. Zuk, “The dentist should error on the side of caution when treating people who are obviously obsessed beyond reason with their looks… A good dentist needs to be picky, but sometimes this can lead to treatment of a problem that really only exists in the mind of the one with the mental disorder.”

A Word on the Word Itself

On the website, the term is defined:

‘Smilorexia’ is a term* used to describe an obsessive desire for a perfect smile. It was coined by Michael Zuk DDS and first used in his book titled Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist.

There’s a small postscript at the bottom of the page:

*Smilorexia is copyrighted within the book Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist. Use of the term is therefore with permission of the author.

In fact, words and phrases are not eligible for copyright. One could apply for trademark status, but Dr. Zuk has apparently not done so. He does not have the legal authority to prevent people from using the word he has coined.

And why would he? It’s hard to coin a successful new phrase if no one uses it. At any rate, the word has also shown up on Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia.

Let’s Get Politically Correct for a Moment

Just as jokes about “chocoholics” gloss over the serious problems of people with alcohol addictions, the term “smilorexia” conveniently overlooks the fact that anorexia is a deeply devastating and potentially fatal disease. We’re glibly ignoring the real specter of chemical addiction when we say we are addicted to Twinkies or CSI: Miami or Farmville. (Well, maybe not that last one… the folks at Zynga seem to have reliably short-circuited the brain’s reward circuitry with their wildly popular online games such as Farmville.)

Dentists are a group who must be especially sensitive to eating disorders. Dentists are often the first medical practitioners to note an eating disorder, particularly bulimia characterized by chronic vomiting. Though most people never think of dentistry as connected to eating disorders, any health problem can take a toll on a patient’s dental health, and dentists can play an invaluable role in diagnosing these conditions and encouraging patients to seek appropriate treatment. And doing that means being sensitive – even politically correct – when it comes to issues of eating disorders.

A Proper Psychiatric Diagnosis

A few patients undoubtedly do become overwhelming obsessed with the appearance of their teeth and smile. Dr. Zuk suggests that ‘smilorexia’ is a form of OCD. From a psychiatric standpoint, these people would likely be considered to have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). [Read more about body dysmorphic disorder on Wikipedia]

In the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) – the official authority on psychiatric disorders – a person is considered to have BDD if they exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person’s concern is markedly excessive.
  2. The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  3. The preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., dissatisfaction with body shape and size in Anorexia Nervosa).


According to research by Dr. Katharine Philips, about 1 in 5 people with BDD have anxiety about the appearance of their teeth. That puts it among the top 10 concerns of BDD sufferers.

Getting Back to Dentists & Dental Marketing

The reformed cosmetic dentist isn’t really concerned about people clinically obsessed with having perfect teeth. He’s really going after the over-eager cosmetic dentists who push unnecessary treatments on patients, sometimes to the detriment of their overall oral health.

He’s got a book to sell, so he’s doing his own dental marketing by creating a controversy with himself at its center.

And the dentist raises some valid points. Some dentists certainly do take it too far when it comes to selling veneers and other cosmetic dentistry. But is Dr. Zuk unfairly painting the entire profession in a negative light?

What do you think?

About Jim Du Molin

+Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.

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