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"99.7% of the population believes that a beautiful smile is an important social asset," says a survey recently conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Statistical results from the same survey further reveals that people of today think that a great smile is essential in achieving success in their careers and in dealing with the opposite sex.
But not everyone is born with a perfect smile. Some of us may have a perfectly healthy set of teeth but not necessarily aesthetically appealing. Others could have just developed unsightly tooth stains, discoloration, chips or cracks and cavities along the way. For those who feel the need to boost their confidence with a big bright smile, here's some good news for you: there is a special field of dentistry that dedicates itself to correcting and enhancing a person's smile - cosmetic dentistry.
What is cosmetic dentistry?
Cosmetic dentistry procedures go beyond your regular tooth extraction, amalgam fillings and oral prophylaxis. It refers to a suite of dental treatments designed to improve or enhance the human smile. It is cosmetic dentistry's aim to correct discolored, cracked, chipped, and unevenly spaced teeth by applying state of the art dental treatments made available today.
Some may argue that cosmetic dentistry, just like other cosmetic procedures, addresses the person's desire to look good rather than its need to maintain general health. A patient may have no problems with his teeth and yet still find the need to seek cosmetic dentistry for a smile "make over". The big difference between cosmetic dentistry and other body enhancement procedures is that improving your smile costs much less and poses dramatically lower health risks than breast augmentation, liposuction and face lifts.
What are the different cosmetic dentistry treatments?
After initial consultation, your dentist will give you a recommended dental treatment together with other alternative options (if any) to improve the appearance of your smile: from correcting minor flaws in the alignment of teeth to severe tooth discoloration and, yes, even missing teeth! Here are some of the most common cosmetic dentistry treatments used:
Also known as "teeth bleaching", teeth whitening is the most common cosmetic dental procedure availed today. It's the process of applying a bleaching chemical to whiten the color of your teeth up to several shades lighter. In effect, you get a perfect bright white smile, free from stains and discoloration.
Teeth whitening sessions can vary in length, depending on the amount of stains or discoloration you need to get rid of and the type of whitening method you will choose - from as short as one session with your dentist to several weeks of home treatment. Depending on where you want the treatments done, below are the different methods for teeth whitening:
In-Office Teeth Whitening
This is the most recommended treatment as the application of bleaching agent will be done by a professional. During in-office teeth whitening procedures, a teeth whitening gel containing a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide is applied to the teeth. Some dentists apply a protective gel on gums of patients undergoing teeth whitening to protect gums from potential chemical burns.
Professional teeth whitening can help address coffee or tobacco stains and correct yellowing of teeth caused by aging. To further enhance teeth whitening results, home based procedures may be recommended.
Dentist-Supervised At-Home Teeth Whitening
For patients who wish for a more "do-it-yourself" and cheaper alternative, dentist supervised at-home treatments can be recommended. With this treatment, a patient wears a custom-fitted mouth tray that is filled with a lower concentration of teeth whitening gel. The mouth tray may be worn during the day or at bedtime, for a few hours at a time within one to two weeks. To lighten individual teeth that have more severe stains or discoloration, the mouth trays can be adjusted accordingly.
Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening Kits
There are a number of over-the-counter teeth whitening products available today that claim to achieve the same results as in-office treatment. From one-size-fits-all mouth trays, to paint-on applicators, there are so many options for you to choose from. Treatment may require several weeks of application before results can be seen.
Over the counter kits may be much cheaper and easier to use than professional teeth bleaching, however, if you consider the amount of time you'll be investing and the risks of developing teeth and gum problems due to misuse or improper-fitting mouth trays, dentist-supervised teeth whitening remains the safest and most effective method for brightening your smile.
Even when done correctly, there is still one reported side-effect of teeth whitening: tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity within a day or two after treatment is normal and will dissipate soon after. Apart from this, professional teeth bleaching is generally safe and does not cause permanent damage to your teeth. If the sensitivity persists after a few days, consult your dentist.
When teeth have ugly gaps, cracks or chips, or severe discoloration that can't be fully addressed by bleaching, your dentist may consider placing veneers.
Veneers are thin, tooth-colored porcelain laminates that are cemented or bonded in front of the affected teeth to conceal the problem areas. It's like giving an old building a fresh new attractive facade!
Veneers are custom-made and may require tooth reduction for the porcelain laminates to fit right onto the teeth. To do this, your dentist will first get a molded image of your reshaped tooth and send it to a dental lab where the veneer will be made. On your next visit, your dentist will then have the properly-fitted veneer cemented or bonded into your slightly reduced tooth.
If properly made, your veneers should last several years as its high tech material promises not to discolor or decay unlike real teeth. Veneers provide more strength in crushing food than tearing or twisting. So, just as with natural teeth, people with veneers are advised to avoid chewing on bones, opening nut shells, or other activities that may cause the veneers to chip or crack.
Crowns, also known as "caps", are like veneers that fit over your whole tooth rather than just the front. Crowns are made from porcelain or acrylic that has been fused with metal to withstand biting pressure. Just like veneers, crowns are also custom made and teeth need to be further reduced to accommodate the cap.
Crowns can be used to treat teeth that are already badly decayed, poorly shaped, broken or chipped, and have had large fillings. Your dentist will have to remove all decays on your affected tooth to stop further damage before applying the crown. Once the tooth is prepared, a mold will be taken and brought to the dental lab that will customize your crown for you. On your next visit to the dentist, the custom-made crown will then be bonded to your original tooth.
Contouring or "tooth reshaping" or "enamel shaping" is one of few fast treatments that can correct minor chips/cracks and overlapping teeth in a single session. Like an artist working with a chunk of wood, a dentist uses contouring to remove a few millimeters of your tooth's outer layer or "enamel" or add in a thin layer of tooth-colored laminate to reshape and correct crooked, cracked or chipped teeth. Contouring is also used to alter length, position or shape of teeth. In some cases, a patient may choose thise cosmetic dentistry procedure over wearing braces to correct minor teeth alignment problems.
Bonding is a process of using a composite dental material to fill up or patch a tooth's affected surface - whether it be due to chipping, cracking or staining. This material is bonded to the tooth, allowed to harden, reshaped (if necessary) then polished.
Gone are the days when silver amalgam fillings were used to fill up molar cavities. Although those dark colored fillings were undoubtedly sturdy, they completely sacrificed the aesthetics of the teeth. Today, tooth colored composite resin material is used to make it look like the natural enamel of the rest of the tooth.
Dental bridges, also known as "pontics", are prosthetic teeth that have been fused between two porcelain crowns. The purpose of wearing dental bridges is to fill in areas that have been left by extracted teeth.
To attach a bridge, the teeth adjacent to the blank space are prepared - they will be reduced so that the crown may be fitted on to the teeth. After taking the mold of the reduced tooth and the blank space, it will be brought to a dental lab where the crowns and the prosthetic teeth will be made. Once made, your dentist will attach the crowns to the reduced teeth, permanently placing the prosthetic tooth attached to them.
Dental bridges may be made to replace one or more missing teeth. Unlike dentures, fixed bridges cannot be taken out of your mouth as they are bound with your crowns as well. They may last many years as long as you take care of them as you would with your natural teeth. The brighter side of having dental bridges is that it reduces the risk of developing gum disease and may help correct teeth alignment problems that affect bite and speech
A dental implant is like an artificial tooth root made of hard metal (like titanium) that has been surgically placed into the jawbone to replace a missing tooth. It is much stronger and more permanent than a bridge - even strong enough to anchor a crown, denture or even the bridge itself.
A dental implant is usually topped with a prosthetic tooth to make it look more natural like the rest of the patient's teeth. Though typically much more expensive than other cosmetic dentistry procedures, a dental implant is recommended for those who want their artificial tooth to last a lifetime.
Who said only teeth could make a beautiful smile? Well shaped gums frame your teeth and are just as important in projecting a bright white smile.
Gum lift is a procedure that reshapes the gum tissue and underlying bones to create the appearance of a longer, more symmetrical set of teeth. Usually, the gum line is raised and sculpted to make the teeth look longer.
Cosmetic dentistry is probably one of the most affordable and most instantaneous ways to improve your physical appearance. A total make-over is never complete without it.
Who needs the help of Cosmetic Dentistry?
Having a beautiful smile is important in projecting a confident persona in everyday situations - like presenting your work to your bosses, getting elected as an officer to your community association or introducing yourself to your crush in school. So who needs the help of cosmetic dentistry? Practically anyone who wants to improve their smile!
The best way to find out if you need some dental work done is if you visit your family dentist. Dentists may already give you suggestions on how to improve your smile from your first visit. Feel free to ask for alternative treatments if you are not comfortable with what is suggested to you. Take the time and patience to push through with the sessions and before you know it, you could be smiling your way to success!