What is Cosmetic Dentistry?
“Cosmetic dentistry” means we can make your teeth and your smile look better by using modern materials and techniques. The scope of cosmetic dentistry can range from very simple things such as tooth whitening to much more extensive things such as dental implants or porcelain veneers.
In our office, we have a more specific definition of cosmetic dentistry: “Obtaining the most beautiful and long-lasting improvement in the appearance of your smile with the minimal amount of treatment.” Particularly, we try to obtain the best smile possible with the least amount of drilling or removal of any natural tooth structure. As a general rule, the less we do to a tooth, the longer it will last. (This is why preventive dentistry is so important. We have been saying for many years, “The filling you don’t get will never have to be replaced!”) You can read more about Minimally Invasive Cosmetic Dentistry by clicking here.
But a great smile is more than just nice teeth. It also depends on the harmony of the teeth within the mouth and within the entire face. For example, someone can have really nice looking teeth but the teeth don’t show at all or show too much when smiling. Or a tooth could be very white and bright but the wrong size or shape to harmonize with the other teeth.
What is a Cosmetic Dentist?
A cosmetic dentist needs to be trained in what is called “smile analysis” to carefully evaluate the many factors that contribute to the smile, not the least of which are the desires of the patient. The cosmetic dentist should then discuss all the options for smile improvement … and there are usually several … including how “invasive” the treatment is and how long it can be expected to last. “Invasive” means how much tooth structure needs to be removed to achieve the desired cosmetic results. “Minimally Invasive,” as the name implies, involves the removal of little or no tooth structure. As mentioned above, the less invasive a treatment, the longer it will last.
What are Porcelain Veneers?
Over the last 25 years, the technique called porcelain veneers has developed and gained popularity with both dentists and patients. The dentist may carefully remove as little as one-half of one millimeter (about 10 times the thickness of a strand of hair) and the dental laboratory creates a very thin veneer of porcelain which is bonded to the tooth at a second appointment about two weeks later. This is very much like an artificial fingernail. Sometimes a porcelain veneer is the best solution to a particular cosmetic problem but it is an “invasive” procedure because some tooth structure will almost always have to be removed. And a tooth treated with a porcelain veneer will most likely have to be re-treated with a new veneer sometime in the next 10-15 years. In some situations, the construction of an acceptable veneer requires the removal of lots of tooth structure and can even unintentionally lead to the need for root canal treatment. Some dentists see porcelain veneers as the solution to all cosmetic problems. They are not. We do many very nice porcelain veneers but only if more conservative, less invasive, less expensive and longer lasting alternatives are not appropriate.
What is Bonding?
“Tooth Bonding” is often loosely defined but generally means that a material called composite resin is bonded to the tooth to correct esthetic problems. This is often (but not always) less invasive than porcelain veneer and may not require the removal of any tooth structure at all … the ultimate goal of “minimally invasive dentistry.” Tooth bonding usually does not require any Novocain, can be done in one appointment, is usually less expensive than a porcelain veneer and last approximately as long when properly done. But tooth bonding requires much greater skill and experience on the part of the cosmetic dentist because it is much more technically demanding than a porcelain veneer. The best uses for tooth bonding are the correction of small chips or worn edges on teeth. If the entire tooth needs a “make-over,” a porcelain veneer may be a better option.
What is Cosmetic Orthodontics?
Another option which should be considered when improving the smile is cosmetic orthodontics … either with conventional metal braces or with the more modern types of “clear braces,” such as Invisalign. Orthodontics is often used to ideally position the teeth then followed by some minor bonding or veneers if they are necessary. The biggest advantage of orthodontics is that it is truly minimally invasive – no tooth structure is removed – and can last forever (provided the person wears retainers a few nights each week). The only other technique we have in dentistry that truly can “last forever” is an extraction! And an extraction almost never enhances a smile! The other advantage of clear braces, including Invisalign, is that treatment is relatively short, often only a few months. The teeth can also easily be whitened during the treatment.
As you can see, cosmetic dentistry should never be “one size fits all.” The best results require an analysis by a well-trained cosmetic dentist who is experienced in all the modern dental techniques. But properly done, achieving a “great smile” is often relatively easy!