A Beautiful Smile – Having One is Easier than Ever
Lisa Marie Samaha, DDS, FAGD, PC
If you’ve dreamed of having a smile “makeover” you’re in good company. In fact, according to research by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, half of all people surveyed say they’d love to improve their smile. Some wish their teeth were whiter. Others feel their teeth are too large, too small, too crowded or not straight enough. Many even go so far as to cover their mouth with their hand when they talk or laugh.
That’s why it’s so important for people to know about the quick and comfortable strategies dentists can use to help patients enjoy smiles that make them proud. These strategies have become increasingly effective in recent years. Today the following procedures are the ones most often chosen by people looking for a brighter, more beautiful smile.
Whitening – in the dentist’s office or at home
Whitening is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to light up your smile.
It can be done at home using trays custom–made at your dentist’s office and filled with one of today’s sophisticated whitening gels. The trays are worn for several hours each day until, over a period of weeks, your teeth reach the degree of whiteness you prefer. Short visits to your dentist during the whitening process help monitor the condition of your mouth and verify your progress.
For those who want faster results, “power whitening,” done in the dentist’s office can brighten your smile in just one or two visits.
In either case you will probably need to touch up the whitening yearly to maintain your new look.
Whether whitening is done at home or in your dentist’s office, it’s very important to make sure your gums and teeth are healthy before you start. It’s also important to think carefully about exactly how white you’d like your teeth to be. Whitening is very effective on teeth that are naturally dark or have been stained by things like coffee, tea, tobacco and certain medications. However, as you have probably noticed, some people want their teeth whitened so much they look unnatural.
This is one of the places where the artistry of cosmetic dentists comes into play. Your aesthetic dentist can advise you on a shade of white that will look bright, attractive and totally natural with your coloring.
Bonding – big improvements in a single visit
One of the most exciting developments in cosmetic dentistry in recent years has been the development of tooth-colored dental plastics called composite resins. These resins not only cover stains, they can be bonded (essentially glued) to teeth to repair chips and cracks, reshape unsightly teeth, close spaces and build up worn teeth to make them look younger.
In bonding, your dentist applies composite resins to the front of your teeth and then sculpts the material to erase flaws. Once the material has been carefully shaped, it is hardened by a special fiberoptic light. Finally, the top coat of resin is polished.
What often impresses people most about bonding is that the entire procedure can be done in a single appointment. Very little needs to be done to the teeth in preparation, the procedure usually requires no anesthetic and tremendous improvements can be made in just a matter of hours.
Bonding lasts for several years (or even longer). However, like teeth themselves, bonded resin can be stained by coffee, tea, tobacco and some foods and drinks, and worn down by chewing. Therefore, it may require periodic touch-ups.
Porcelain Laminate Veneers – for a custom made solution
Porcelain veneers are essentially custom made shells that fit over your teeth to cover stains and flaws as they straighten, reshape and rejuvenate. This is the procedure chosen by actors, models and others whose appearance is very important to their career. Increasingly, these veneers are also being chosen by people who simply want to look their best.
Veneers are made in a dental laboratory, then bonded to your teeth. The process takes longer than bonding with resin -- usually at least two appointments -- and some minor preparation of tooth surfaces is required. However, with proper care, these specially tailored shells resist staining and last for years.
Laminates are available in plastic as well, but porcelain/ceramic veneers reflect light the way natural teeth do, giving them a beautifully lifelike appearance.
Unquestionably more expensive than some other procedures, porcelain veneers are considered by many people to be the most effective and satisfying cosmetic procedure. Brilliant, natural results can occur when a highly skilled cosmetic dentist and a highly skilled laboratory technician team up. Experience, an artistic eye and the highest quality materials are critical when it comes to achieving the finest results.
Tooth-Colored Fillings – a big step forward
The same tooth-colored composite resin that makes bonding possible can also be used to create fillings that are effectively invisible. Prepared and placed like the more old-fashioned silver/mercury fillings, these composite fillings are actually bonded to your tooth, so your dentist does not have to prepare as large an opening as would be required for a silver filling.
Thanks to recent improvements, composite resin fillings are now nearly as strong as silver fillings and are considered a good alternative. In fact, many people aren’t just choosing resin when they need a new filling, they’re opting to replace old silver fillings with the new material. Resin fillings are a bit more expensive than silver, but these patients say it’s worth it for the more attractive, natural looking appearance.
CEREC Restorations – the cutting edge
As good as composite resin fillings have proven, advanced CEREC restorations – fillings, inlays, onlays and crowns made of tooth colored ceramics – are even more exciting. Indeed, CEREC (short for Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics) technology has performed so impressively that dentists who use it say comparing CEREC restorations to composite resin ones is like comparing fine china to Tupperware.
Unlike old-fashioned fillings, CEREC restorations actually strengthen teeth. Moreover, they allow the dentist to preserve the maximum amount of tooth structure and can eliminate the need for crowns – a much more costly and invasive procedure.
Because they don’t react to temperature changes the way silver/mercury fillings do, they don’t cause painful heat and cold sensitivity. While they do cost more than traditional or composite fillings and restorations, they last well over twice as long as these less advanced techniques.
Because CEREC Restorations are made in the dentist’s office using optical imaging and computer enhanced design technology they are also considerably more convenient than other restorations. There’s no need for impressions, and because the restoration is made during the visit where the cavity is treated or the old filling removed there’s no need for temporary fillings or crowns. So there’s no worry about having temporary work break or fall out and no need for a second or third visit.
Although CEREC technology has been available for over a decade, not all dental offices are capable of creating these exciting restorations. Patients who are interested in CEREC technology, its beautiful results, durability and convenience, may want to ask whether a practice offers CEREC restorations before making an appointment.
Changing More Than How You Look
There’s no question that today’s cosmetic dentistry procedures can change the way you look - simply, comfortably and quickly. In fact, your teeth can be brighter, straighter and much more attractive in just a matter of hours. But that’s just part of the story.
What patients say matters most to them is how they feel inside knowing their smile looks great. They say they laugh more, enjoy being with people more, even feel more confident at work. When cosmetic dentists hear reactions like that, they smile with the satisfaction that comes from helping people get more out of life.