An old pair of shoes may go unnoticed -- but a smile won't be overlooked.

Or so says dentist Dr. Gordon Christensen at the 47th annual Academy of General Dentistry Meeting that began Thursday and will continue through Sunday at the Salt Palace.About 5,000 dentists, hygienists and dental assistants are expected to attend the national event held in conjunction with the American Dental Assistants Association.

Christensen, a Provo dentist and clinical professor at the University of Utah, conducted the course "Esthetic Dentistry for the 21st Century." He was one of myriad dental professionals who spoke at the event Thursday.

"People hesitate to spend money on themselves but it's not much different than buying a nice suit or a new dress or anything that enhances your personal appearance," Christensen said.

The course emphasized patient education and making choices. "It's like buying a tire," he said. People like to pick and choose which tire to buy -- they don't always want to be told "this is the tire for you."

Through dental education, a good understanding of the alternatives of tooth restoration could allow patients to make their own choices, he said.

Videotapes, pamphlets, books, models, photographs, slides, panoramic radiographs, diagnostic casts and television are means by which patients can be educated, he said.

Those at the meeting also discussed teeth bleaching. The majority of those interested in the procedure are women. Eighty-one percent of women being treated ask to have their teeth whitened as opposed to 55 percent of men, according to statistics presented in the course.

The No. 1 reason cited by those wanting the procedure?

"To look younger."

The downside of the "bug to bleach" was illustrated with one woman's attempt to excessively bleach her teeth until the translucence had disappeared.

Dr. Anne Murray, a dentist from Cupertino, Calif., said "new bleaching techniques are faster, more effective and offer less sensitivity to teeth, which is what everyone wants to hear."

Christensen said superficial stains can also be removed inexpensively in the dentist office.

Other advancements center on choices to straighten teeth. "Everybody that's older gets crooked teeth," he said. "You can't be 50 years old and not show your lower teeth."

While braces are becoming popular among adults, another solution would be tooth veneers that compensate for irregularities. Simple contouring of teeth is another alternative.

Implants were also discussed, although the concept has been around for 30 years, he said. The use of an implant, "where a titanium screw in the bone creates a tooth to anchor a bridge or denture, could mean the ability to eat. It could also help a patient's appearance."

Other topics scheduled during the event range from pediatric dentistry to endodontics, infection control and transfer of disease.

People are encouraged by the academy to call SmileLine, active until 5 p.m. Friday. The hotline provides answers to general dentistry questions: 1-800-SMILE-33 (764-5333).

Those interested can also check out the academy's Web site at any time, http://www.agd.org.