Cosmetic Dentistry – The Basics

A brilliant white smile full of perfectly aligned and proportioned teeth is not as difficult to acquire as in the past. With radical advancements in cosmetic dentistry even the most challenging dental conditions can be eliminated, and converted into a picture perfect smile. Most people looking to improve the appearance of their teeth begin with basic, and necessary, dental care treatments such as cleaning and regular maintenance. When they are ready to enhance or rejuvenate their smile however, they must seek out a cosmetic dentist or dental practice that provides elective treatments and services. Today the menu of options available to patients seeking cosmetic dentistry includes: inlays and onlays, composite bonding, teeth whitening, dental veneers, smile makeovers, full mouth reconstruction, and even fillings and crowns. Cosmetic dentistry does not usually address issues such as teeth straightening, which is usually the work of an orthodontist, but a patient may have a variety of treatments to complete a smile makeover or mouth reconstruction that could easily include straightening or alignment.

Cosmetic dentistry’s purpose is to improve the appearance of the teeth and the mouth, which requires different materials than a standard dental office. Today, cosmetic dentists will include fillings in the available services, though these are still a standard procedure of a traditional dentist. The reason they are now cosmetic procedures is actually two-fold: materials have improved to allow the replacement of older and easily seen amalgam fillings with porcelain or composite materials that match the color of the tooth, and because many people with decayed teeth seek inlays or onlays that use the same composites to affectively “fill” the tooth. Inlays and onlays are frequently referred to as “indirect” fillings because they are not molded into place, but created in a laboratory environment and then attached to a tooth during a visit to the dentist. They are used to treat tooth decay in areas where traditional fillings are not viable. They are also used to restore and strengthen teeth all ready weakened from dental work or decay. The difference between an inlay and onlay is the location and amount of tooth covered. An inlay is bonded within the center of a tooth, while the onlay is used for more extensive damage and coverage, usually covering more than one point of the tooth. Composite bonding is a frequently performed procedure, used both for fillings and for repairing teeth. Most cosmetic dentists employ two approaches: linking one surface to another, as in the case of fillings, and “direct” bonding which requires the resin material to be applied to a tooth to fill and protect any flawed or damaged areas.

Unfortunately, composite bonding is not the comprehensive answer for all damaged teeth. Minimal flaws such as chips or small cracks can be affectively treated with such methods, but significant damages are usually addressed through veneers or crowns. Veneers are custom-made for each patient, and they are crafted from a strong ceramic material that is applied to the surface of a tooth to protect worn enamel, chips and cracks, or to provide coverage for uneven alignment or large spaces between teeth. Veneers are seen as an all-purpose solution for most cosmetic dentistry issues. People opt for dental veneers more frequently than other cosmetic treatments because they provide a durable, painless and natural looking answer to most cosmetic dental issues. Where veneers cannot provide a solution, some patients choose to have crowns or “caps” placed over their heavily damaged teeth. Crowns and caps will generally provide function from even the most heavily damaged teeth by encasing the properly prepared remains of a tooth. Most dentists try to preserve a natural tooth as much as possible, removing only what is absolutely necessary to attach the veneer or crown. Most dentists prefer to discuss tooth restoration processes with their patients before jumping to crowns or caps, because that will require some removal of tooth material, and may not be the best option. Crowns are usually made from three predominant materials: porcelain fused to metal, porcelain and gold. The materials chosen for each application will vary according to the demand of the individual in question, as well as aesthetic concerns and the amount of tooth or space available.

The strongest, most durable and visually appealing crowns are those made from porcelain fused to metal. The only detractor to such an application is that as the patient ages, and their gums recede, some of the metallic materials may be revealed, but porcelain “collars” are available to prevent such issues. Porcelain crowns are usually applied to mouths that have limited space available, because they do not require the inner metal core of the porcelain fused to metal option. Unfortunately, such crowns may suffer when under heavier use and can be prone to fracture. Finally gold crowns are usually selected for those with such habits as teeth grinding because gold is less abrasive to opposing surfaces, and it is usually applied to the larger teeth towards the back of the mouth. Because of their material they are usually not selected for aesthetic purposes as they are quite noticeable. When more than a single tooth must be addressed, cosmetic dentists offer two different services intended to produce a larger effect. They provide smile makeovers as well as full mouth reconstruction. The smile makeover is a purely aesthetic process of improving the appearance of the smile and the teeth and can require everything from whitening to crowns or veneers.

A full mouth reconstruction will usually result from the process of assessment that occurs prior to a smile makeover. While looking to improve the appearance of the teeth, a cosmetic surgeon may diagnose functional problems with the teeth and bone structure as well as the bite or muscles around the mouth. Such issues are addressed with a number of procedures that can include implants, treatment of gum disease, braces and even surgical procedures such as grafts of bone or soft tissue to protect the health of the gums and teeth. There are many options available for cosmetic surgery and patients should consult with their dentist about their own needs and wishes in order to determine the best results possible.