All About Cosmetic Dentistry

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July 18, 2016

Cosmetic dentistry offers everything from tooth whitening to complete smile makeovers. Learn about your options here.

Cosmetic dentistry isn't just for celebrities and the wealthy — there's now a wide variety of options and price ranges that put a better smile within reach for millions of people.

"Cosmetic dentistry has gone mainstream," says Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer advisor and spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a dentist in private practice in Farmington, Minn. "Just about every dentist does at least some cosmetic dentistry procedures these days."

From subtle changes to major oral surgery, there are a host of cosmetic dentistry techniques that can treat teeth that are discolored, chipped, misshapen, or missing.

So is cosmetic dentistry right for you? Here's what you need to know before making the decision.

What Is Cosmetic Dentistry?

While traditional dentistry addresses the health of your teeth and gums, cosmetic dentistry focuses on the appearance of your teeth, mouth, and smile.

"Recent advances in cosmetic dentistry allow dentists to offer everything from improved teeth whitening to translucent tooth coverings to complete smile makeovers," says Dr. Harms. Cosmetic dentistry has been around for decades, but the materials used today are more durable and natural looking than those used in the past. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), two-thirds of patients seeking cosmetic dentistry are female, and the average amount spent on cosmetic procedures by these patients in 2007 was a little less than $4,000. However, some cosmetic dentistry procedures can cost as little as $300. Because cosmetic dentistry is considered elective rather than "necessary," it's not usually covered by insurance.

Cosmetic Dentistry Options

There are a variety of cosmetic dentistry procedures available, including:

  • Teeth whitening. This procedure brightens teeth that are discolored or stained. Teeth whitening, or bleaching, can be done in a dentist's office or at home with a system dispensed by the dentist. Over-the-counter teeth-whitening products are also available.
  • Bonding. This can improve the appearance of teeth that are chipped, broken, cracked, stained, or have spaces in between them, by bonding tooth-colored materials to the tooth surface.
  • Veneers. These are thin, custom-made porcelain shells that cover the front of the teeth to disguise discoloration or imperfections.
  • Tooth reshaping. This procedure involves changing the teeth to improve their appearance by modifying or removing enamel. Tooth reshaping (also known as dental contouring) is often combined with bonding.
  • Crown lengthening . This can fix a "gummy" smile (where more gums than teeth are visible) or an uneven gum line by removing excess gum tissue to expose more of the tooth's crown and give the appearance of longer teeth. This involves minor oral surgery.
  • Smile makeovers. These procedures involve a comprehensive assessment of the overall appearance of the teeth and smile. Typically, several cosmetic dentistry procedures are required to overhaul the look of a patient's smile. Think of it as a facelift for the mouth.

How to Choose a Cosmetic Dentist

The skill and experience of the dentist you select can impact the outcome of your cosmetic dentistry work. While some dental specialists, such as orthodontists and periodontists, need additional education and special certifications in order to practice, the field of cosmetic dentistry doesn't have such requirements. "Any dentist with a degree in general dentistry can perform cosmetic dentistry procedures," says Harms. "Most dentists who offer cosmetic dentistry have taken continuing education courses in the treatments and procedures." To be sure that the dentist you select is skilled in cosmetic dentistry, it's best to ask to for the following:

  • Before and after photos of patients treated
  • Patient references
  • Proof of continuing education

RELATED How to Choose a Dentist 

You'll also want to ask whether the dentist is a member of the AACD, which requires rigorous study of cosmetic dentistry procedures and an examination to become a member. To find an AACD dentist near you, log on to the AACD Web site.

With today's emphasis on youth and appearance, cosmetic dentistry is becoming more popular than ever. While not many people have naturally perfect teeth, almost anyone can attain a dazzling smile with the help of a dentist.

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