Irwin Smigel, New York Dentist Behind Cosmetic Techniques, Dies at 92

Irwin Smigel, a pioneer of aesthetic dentistry who brightened the smiles of celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Willis, died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said his son, Robert Smigel, a comedian and screenwriter and the voice of the puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Working from his office on Madison Avenue, Dr. Smigel (pronounced SMY-gell), a second-generation dentist, advanced two techniques that transformed the appearance of teeth in countless patients beginning in the 1970s.

One was laser whitening, in which a laser beam activates a chemical bleaching agent applied to the teeth; Dr. Smigel helped develop and popularize it.

The other was a bonding technique, which had been used for fillings; he applied it to dental imperfections using layers of laminates and veneers.

Dr. Smigel credited a number of colleagues, among them Dr. Michael Buonocore and Dr. Raphael Bowen, with also making breakthroughs in the bonding process.

In bonding, instead of gold or porcelain caps being applied, the tooth is etched with a buffered acid solution and then painted with a liquid acrylic. A composite resin is then patted on, shaped and hardened for 20 seconds with a beam of either white or ultraviolet light.

Bonding was originally known as acid-etching, Dr. Smigel told Global Health Nexus, a publication of the New York University College of Dentistry, in 2004. But he stopped using that term in 1975, he said, after he was interviewed by the New York radio personality Long John Nebel.

Recalling that interview, Dr. Smigel said: “During a commercial break, he said: ‘People will be frightened by the thought of acid used in their mouths. Why not call it bonding instead?’ And it’s been known as bonding ever since.”

Dr. Smigel once demonstrated the technique on “The Mike Douglas Show,” enlisting a man from the television studio audience to undergo it.

Dr. Smigel attracted patients from all over the world and had continued to practice until about two years ago.

He and his wife, Lucia Smigel, who survives him, also developed a whitening toothpaste called Supersmile.

“The eyes may be the soul of the face, but the mouth is the first thing people look at,” Dr. Smigel told New York magazine in 1981. “Now bonding has given us the possibility of instant transformation, since it can be done in a matter of hours, not days and years.”

He added, “Nothing will have the emotional impact on the public that bonding will.”

Irwin Elliot Smigel was born on Oct. 9, 1924, in Manhattan, the son of Dr. Sebastian Smigel and the former Bella Soloway. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School, New York University and the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry.

In addition to his wife, the former Lucia Shvetz, and his son, he is survived by a daughter, Bellanca Smigel Rutter, a lawyer for Supersmile, and six grandsons.

Dr. Smigel founded the American Society for Dental Aesthetics in 1977. Two years later, he wrote a book called “Dental Health, Dental Beauty.” His alma mater established the Smigel Prize in Aesthetic Dentistry in his honor.

Dr. Smigel brushed his teeth twice daily (for two minutes each time) and used a tongue cleaner and floss.

“The most important time of day to brush your teeth is right before you go to bed,” he told The New York Times in 2011. “You know why? During the day, we swallow 2,000 times, but when we sleep, we may swallow just 20 times, and our mouths get dry.”

He added, “You brush for two minutes, and that plaque can’t start rolling in.”

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