Our smiles mean a lot to us. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, roughly 50 percent of adults think that a smile is the most memorable feature after meeting someone for the first time. In the age of social media, there are plenty of tools out there to brighten and adjust our smiles in photos, but they can’t fix dental issues IRL. The good news is that cosmetic dentistry is more advanced (and popular) than ever and can give you a picture-perfect smile in everyday life.
While they are different, cosmetic and medical dentistry are connected. “Everything that I do to restore function to the teeth and their surrounding structures is done in a cosmetic and aesthetic fashion,” Los Angeles cosmetic dentist Anjali Rajpal, DDS says. “With the materials we have today, decayed or worn teeth can be reconstructed with natural-looking materials that also are highly functional.”
Here are five procedures that can help achieve a megawatt smile.
1. In-Office Teeth Whitening
When it comes to our smiles, most of us fixate on the color of our teeth. Teeth whitening, also known as teeth bleaching, is a quick way to enhance their appearance by removing stains and discoloration and brightening teeth.
While there are at-home kits, they are not as effective as working with a dentist. The over-the-counter, one-size-fits-all kits have a lower concentration of bleach and do not deliver strong enough results for some people. Teeth can turn yellow for many different reasons and each requires their own call to action. A dentist will be able to find the right approach to get those whites pearly.
The overall process of teeth bleaching is quick and painless. First, a dental hygienist will clean your teeth and gums to remove any particles and bacteria that could interfere with the bleaching process. Next, the dentist will cover the gums to protect them and, after applying the whitening solution, will use a UV light to activate the bleach solution. This process may be repeated a few times until the desired whiteness is achieved. There are a number of different teeth whitening brands that offer in-office treatments, like Philips ZOOM, BriteSmile, or LumaLite, which have their own subtle differences.
Many patients only require one session of bleaching, but the number of sessions depends on the initial color of your teeth. Most teeth whitening lasts for about six months to two years, depending on diet and lifestyle, and typically costs from $500 to $1,000.
2. Dental Bonding
Dental bonding repairs decayed or chipped teeth, closes gaps, or changes the shape of teeth. The treatment works by applying a durable plastic resin to the tooth. A special light is then applied to harden and bond the resin, which is the same color as the teeth, leaving an improved smile that looks natural. The entire process depends on how many teeth you are bonding, but on average, it takes 30 to 60 minutes per tooth.
Dental bonding makes for a quicker and less expensive alternative compared to other cosmetic dental procedures like veneers or crowns. It is also a good option for those who do not want to compromise the structure of their original teeth. However, dental bondings are less stain and chip resistant. With that in mind, they can be better for temporary fixes rather than long term solutions. To get the most out of dental bonding, avoid habits like fingernail biting or pen chewing and never chew ice or other hard foods.
Depending on location and person, dental bonding typically runs from $100 to $400. Dental insurance can sometimes fully or partially cover dental bonding, especially if it is accident-related.
3. Enamel Shaping
Like dental bonding, enamel shaping (also known as enameloplasty) is a relatively quick and easy fix for small chips, uneven enamel, and irregular tooth shape. Unlike dental bonding, enamel shaping is permanent since the process, which is also known as stripping or slenderizing, involves removing small amounts of enamel.
Before committing to enamel shaping, you should set up a consultation with your dentist to assess the thickness of your teeth’s enamel. If the enamel is too thin, you may not be a suitable candidate for the procedure and may want to consider dental bonding or veneers instead. The overall procedure is quick and involves your dentist using a sanding disc or paper to smooth out and recontour the teeth. Because some of the enamel is being stripped, the dentin is more exposed and can make your teeth more sensitive to heat and cold.
Enamel shaping is one of the most inexpensive ways to improve your smile and typically runs from $50 to $250.
4. Dental Veneers
Dental veneers, also referred to as porcelain veneers or dental laminates, are an ideal option for those looking to fix chipped, misaligned, or irregularly shaped teeth and adjust spacing. The veneers are very thin custom made shells, made from resin or porcelain, that cover the whole tooth. Veneers are bonded to the front of the teeth and are dyed to match the color of your teeth. While it ultimately comes down to personal preference, porcelain is more stain-resistant than resin and can reflect light off of the teeth more naturally.
Veneers are not to be confused with crowns, which are usually medically necessary, rather than cosmetic, are thicker than veneers, and require more enamel to be removed. While crowns can be used for cosmetic reasons, they are mostly prescribed for more serious issues like decay or breakage.
The overall process for dental veneers is more time consuming than dental bonding. Usually, three trips to the dentist are required: an initial consultation, a visit to make the molds for the veneers, and a final visit to apply them. During the second visit, the dentist will trim off some enamel and take a mold to send to a dental laboratory to make the custom veneers. It can take up to a month to get the veneers from the laboratory, so often temporary veneers are applied in the meantime. To fix the veneers to the teeth, a special light is used to bond the cement, similar to dental bonding. Afterward, the dentist will remove any excess cement and make any final touch-ups. Depending on the specific case, a follow-up appointment may be needed.
Veneers achieve a long-lasting natural smile, but do have some drawbacks. Most importantly, getting veneers is a permanent solution. Because the enamel is removed and teeth are shaved down, the process is irreversible and some can experience heightened sensitivity to hot and cold substances after they get them. Additionally, veneers are not indestructible. While they last longer than dental bonding, around seven to 15 years, they can eventually experience discoloration and chipping. They are also a larger investment and usually run around $1,000 to $2,000 per tooth.
5. Gum Reshaping
When it comes to enhancing your smile, most people forget that it goes beyond just teeth. Reshaping the gums can also make a world of difference. The procedure, also known as gum contouring, gingival contouring, or tissue sculpting, can even out the gum line and fix a gummy smile. There are a number of reasons why someone can have uneven gums: it could be due to genetics, health issues, or even certain medications. Gum reshaping can sometimes be medically necessary, like to cure gum recession, but it can also be done for cosmetic reasons.
Before the surgery, the doctor will draw out your new gum line directly onto your mouth and work with you to map out the desired results. Next, local anesthesia will be applied. The dentist, or periodontist (gum specialist), can use different tools and processes to perform the surgery depending on your needs. Some doctors use technology like radiosurgery or lasers and others use more mechanical methods like scalpels. Depending on the structure of your teeth, sometimes it is recommended to recontour the underlying bone as well. This ensures that the results last and the gums do not grow back. The entire process typically takes one appointment.
Since gum recontouring is a surgery, it has a little more downtime than the other cosmetic procedures above. The recovery process involves taking over-the-counter ibuprofen pain relievers–but not aspirin, which can cause bleeding–and consuming only soft foods. Recovery time can depend on the method used, but the pain should subside after a few days and the gums should heal within a couple of weeks. Depending on the severity of the procedure, gum reshaping can run from about $600 to $2,000.
Each treatment listed above offers its own unique benefits and for many patients, it is possible to mix and match them to achieve the most desirable results. For instance, some patients combine dental bonding with enamel shaping while others get veneers along with gum contouring. Regardless of the procedure, Dr. Rajpal suggests patients always try to conserve as much of the natural tooth structure as possible.
Work with a dentist that specializes in cosmetic dentistry to come up with a game plan to achieve the perfect smile you have been dreaming of. “It is important to be treated by someone who has an aesthetic eye and who is highly trained in the latest techniques and use of materials,” Dr. Rajpal advises.
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