If you have been to the movies at least a couple of times during the last 25 years, then chances are good that you have seen the work of Bruce Adams, a specialist of dental implants and prosthetic dental effects in movies. Although, you won’t find Bruce on a sound stage, because he creates his wonderful Hollywood magic in an off-the-set dental laboratory. Hollywood is a second home to Adams, as he still maintains his primary practice back in Indianapolis. Adams is what is known as a dental technician who is famous for inventing many of the worst teeth and smiles we have ever seen on the silver screen — including Mrs. Doubtfire’s memorable dentures and Austin Powers’ wicked grin. Recently, NBFF had the chance to speak with this master of dental implants and prosthetic dental effects in movies about some of his rather unique smile transformations! Below are a few of the highlights from that interview.
In your work as a dental technician servicing the movie industry, no doubt you have had quite a few very odd assignments. Let us first talk about what it is that a dental technician typically does. Would you please explain that for our audience?
Well, I fabricate all of the dental implants, bridges, orthodontic appliances, crowns, and dentures which are prescribed by a regular dentist. Basically, I am sort of like a pharmacist for the dental field, as I fill prescriptions.
Would you say that custom dental work, is more or less a team effort between a dental technician and a cosmetic dentist?
Absolutely. When it comes to custom dental work, there aren’t any “off-the-shelf” products. The process starts by the dentist providing me with the impressions (or molds) and a prescription, directing me as to what they want created for the dental patient, whether it’s an orthodontic appliance, an implant bridge, or a denture, and I am the person that gets to fabricate the smile. So yes, we work very closely together. I do the technical work, while the dentist does the clinical aspect of the work, and this teamwork provides the patient with a beautiful smile.
OK, let’s move on to your special-effects work in movies. How did the work in movies come about for you?
It started for me when I was contacted by a special effects and makeup artist and they asked me if I could make a pair of dentures that would fall out of a person’s mouth and land in a glass of water. That first job was for the movie Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and the late Robin Williams.
Do you use the same materials for actors as those used for real patients?
No. You see, for special-effects and movies, we use acrylics. Generally, for real patients, we would use porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns, porcelain veneers, or possibly even the new milled zirconias. We are able to create acrylic veneers which look incredibly real. In fact, remember Jonah Hill’s teeth in The Wolf of Wall Street? Well, he had these remarkably brilliant, white teeth; those were almost certainly made with acrylics.
Which do you enjoy more: beautiful smiles or scary ones?
Well, it’s hard to say I prefer one over the other. However, creating scary or ugly smiles goes against everything that we dental technicians are taught. Here we have Hollywood A-listers that have super nice smiles and we are tasked with making them look terrible. We have made some incredibly horrific smiles, some insanely ghoulish-looking teeth! I have created gaps, a “meth mouth”, and even teeth that have flown out of the actor’s mouth.
Are you the one who fits the actor for their prosthetic teeth, or does the actor first go to their regular dentist to get molds made of their mouth?
Usually, the actor will come to us first. At that point, I am more of a makeup artist specializing in teeth, versus a traditional dental technician. After taking all of the actor’s impressions, I will get together with the directors, producers, makeup artists, and anybody else involved in the process, and together we will design what they want for the film. The most difficult part of the process is often getting what is in their heads onto paper from which I can then create the idea that I feel that they want. Often times I will make three or four different mouth pieces from which they can choose from.
What was one of the most memorable film projects that you have been involved with?
Oh wow! Easy. I had to create a real looking dental abscess. Did you see Cast Away with Tom Hanks? When the character was stranded on the island and he had a terrible toothache, the directors wanted to depict an abscess right above the gum line with all kinds of pus and gunk coming out of it. We met with Mr. Hanks and I took the molds on him and I developed this great little piece. That piece was only in the movie for a few seconds but nearly everyone remembers Tom using that ice skate in order to knock his rotten tooth out with it due to it giving him so much pain.
Which movie transformation did you enjoy the most?
I would have to say that my favorite of all-time was working with Mike Myers while working on the Austin Powers films. When Mike came and met with me and his makeup artist, we all decided that we were going for the stereototypical 1970s nasty British teeth. Luck would have it, the first set of nasty fake teeth which we made ended up being the smile which now everyone equates with Austin Powers. Mr. Myers made those teeth famous, that’s for sure.
What do the actors typically think of having to wear dental implants or prosthetic teeth?
It usually takes them about an hour or so to get used to it, but after that they become quite comfortable with fake dental implants or prosthetic teeth. We once had an actor continuously wear them to lunch. One time, he forgot to take them out and wore them home that night. He ended up biting into an apple and breaking them.
Explain to us what “breakaway” teeth are.
In a movie, when somebody gets punched in the face, you will sometimes see them spit out a tooth. That’s a little piece that I make and it’s referred to as a breakaway veneer. How it works is that we make a full set of acrylic veneers and the single tooth which is going to be punched out is stuck in there with a type of wax. After getting “punched” in the mouth, the actor will hit it with their real tooth, and they will also have a fake blood pack behind their lip. Once the actor pops the fake blood pack, they fling the fake tooth out into the air and now you have got a great fight scene.
When back home in Indianapolis, do you still work on regular dentistry projects?
For sure. I don’t think I could ever give up my career in the traditional dental lab industry. I love seeing my patients in Indianapolis with beautiful, happy smiles. That, to me, is even more satisfying that seeing my work on the big screen. Besides, I work with a fantastic team of oral surgeons and I love being the best cosmetic dentist Indianapolis at my practice.