Today, cosmetic dentistry is more popular than ever, from whitening and shaping, to closing spaces and replacing teeth. And dentists have a wide array of tools and techniques at their disposal for improving the look of your smile.
Before deciding to undergo any cosmetic procedure, it's important to know the benefits and risks, and what you can expect during the process. Make sure you're clear about what it will cost, how much experience your dentist has with the procedure, and whether any special maintenance will be needed afterward.
Over time teeth can become stained or discolored, especially after smoking, taking certain medications, or consuming foods and beverages such as coffee and tea. Using a chemical process, your dentist can bleach your teeth in one of two ways. He can do an in-office procedure, or provide you with a system to use at home.
Your dentist can create a custom mouthpiece that ensures the right amount of whitening solution reaches your teeth. You may find whitening at home more convenient. But it can take two to four weeks. In-office whitening can take place in one or more 45- to 60-minute visits.
Keep in mind, your teeth can become stained again if you continue exposing them to the same substances that originally stained them. Since whitening products are not meant to clean teeth, it is still important to continue practicing daily oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day.
Bonding may improve how your teeth look if they have excess space between them, or if they are chipped, broken, stained, or cracked.
Dentists also use bonding materials to fill small cavities or to protect the exposed root of a tooth.
The dentist can usually do this procedure in a single office visit by applying an etching solution followed by tooth-colored materials -- sometimes composite resins -- directly to the tooth's surface where needed.
Although bonding can last for several years, it is more likely than other types of restorations to chip or become stained.
These custom shells, made of porcelain or plastic, cover the front sides of the teeth to change their color and/or shape. Veneers can improve teeth that:
- Have spaces between them
- Have become chipped or worn
- Are permanently stained
- Are poorly shaped
- Are slightly crooked
Dentists often suggest veneers for some of the same problems that bonding addresses. Yet, the process for inserting veneers is not reversible like dental bonding, which can be removed.
Veneers are less expensive than crowns. And they last longer and have better color stability than bonding.
Before inserting veneers, the dentist first takes an impression of your tooth, then buffs the tooth before cementing the veneer in place. A beam of light helps harden the cement which secures the veneer to your tooth.
Porcelain veneers are made in a laboratory. So you would need a second visit to the dentist to have them inserted.
Sometimes called caps, crowns completely cover a tooth, restoring a normal shape and appearance. You may need a crown to:
- Cover a misshapen or discolored tooth
- Protect a weak tooth
- Restore a broken or worn tooth
- Cover a tooth with a large filling
- Hold a dental bridge in place
- Cover a dental implant
- Cover a tooth that's had a root canal procedure
- Crowns can be made from metal, porcelain fused to metal, resin, or ceramic materials. Because crowns are costly, dentists usually suggest them only when other procedures can't produce a pleasing result.
Enamel Shaping and Contouring
Enamel shaping and contouring involves removing or contouring dental enamel to improve the appearance of your teeth. Dentists may combine this process with bonding.
Often used to alter the length, shape, or position of teeth, reshaping and contouring can correct:
- Crooked or overlapping teeth
- Chipped and irregular teeth
- Minor bite problems
Today, people of almost all ages are benefiting from braces. Braces not only improve the look of teeth that are crooked or crowded. They can improve an irregular bite and correct jaw positioning and jaw joint disorders.
Braces are worn to apply light pressure to the teeth and reposition them slowly, usually over the course of one to three years.
To place braces, your dentist or orthodontist bonds brackets made of metal, ceramic, or plastic to your teeth. Then she places arch wires through the brackets, which guide the teeth into their correct positions. Dentists can attach lingual braces to the backs of teeth, hiding them from view.
After your braces are attached -- and after each visit where your dentist tightens your braces -- expect some discomfort for a few days. Also, regular oral hygiene becomes especially important while you are wearing braces.
Risks with braces are minimal. But people with allergies to metal or latex, or those who have periodontal disease, are at greater risk for problems during treatment. Root shortening is also a minor problem for some people.
An alternative for correcting minor spacing problems involves wearing a series of clear, customized appliances called aligners, or invisible braces. Your dentist will reshape and replace them about every two weeks to progressively move your teeth. Unlike traditional braces, aligners can be removed while eating, brushing, and flossing.
Often there are two phases to treatment with braces: wearing braces, and then using a retainer to hold your teeth in their new position. Retainers can be removable or permanently bonded in behind your teeth.
Reference, WebMD Medical. Improve Your Smile: Cosmetic Dentistry 101. 08 March 2012. 17 June 2013 <http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/america-asks-12/cosmetic-dentistry?page=1>.