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Make Over Your Mouth

From a mere cleaning to tooth whitening to "smile design," a trip to the dentist can be a cosmetic experience these days.

The Architecture of a Smile continued...

When teeth need to be realigned, it's usually an orthodontist who takes care of it. And you may not need braces. Many people can have their teeth straightened with the Invisalign system, which uses clear plastic "aligners" to gradually move the teeth around. Although it is widely accepted, "You cannot use Invisalign for every case that you can use braces for," Malone says.

Often the jaw can be repositioned without surgery, but sometimes an oral surgeon may need to join the team. As part of a "whole mouth rehabilitation," as Bellen terms it, some people need to have a severely recessed or protruding jaw corrected.

How much you want done depends on how much time you're willing to commit to it, and how much money you have at your disposal. Strictly cosmetic dental work isn't covered by insurance, and the cost can be steep. Veneers, for example, may cost as little as $250 and as much as $2,000 -- per tooth.

Again, you would be paying for a lot of time in the chair. Bellen says he sometimes works on a single patient for a full eight-hour day. What's more, the end result can take many months to accomplish. "There are cases I have in progress right now that have been going on for a year," he says.

But for some, an elaborate and costly production may be worth it in the end. "People smile more when they have nice-looking teeth," Bellen says. "Your whole face brightens up."

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