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Today, cosmetic dentistry is more popular than ever, from whitening and shaping to closing spaces and replacing teeth. And dentists have a wide array of tools and techniques at their disposal for improving the look of your smile.

Before deciding to undergo any cosmetic procedure, it's important to know the benefits and risks and what you can expect during the process. Make sure you're clear about what it will cost, how much experience your dentist has with the procedure, and whether any special maintenance will be needed afterward.

Teeth Whitening

Over time, teeth can become stained or discolored, especially after smoking, taking certain medications, or consuming foods and beverages such as coffee and tea. Using a chemical process, your dentist can bleach your teeth in one of two ways. He can do an in-office procedure, or provide you with a system to use at home.

Your dentist can create a custom mouthpiece tray that ensures the right amount of whitening solution reaches your teeth. You may find whitening at home more convenient. But it can take two to four weeks or longer depending on the strength of peroxide used. In-office whitening can take place in one or more 1- to 2-hour visits.

Keep in mind, your teeth can become stained again if you continue exposing them to the same substances that originally stained them. Because whitening products are not meant to clean teeth, it is still important to continue practicing daily oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day.

Bonding

Bonding may improve how your teeth look if they have excess space between them, or if they are chipped, broken, stained, or cracked.

Dentists also use bonding materials to fill small cavities or to protect the exposed root of a tooth.

The dentist can usually do this procedure in a single office visit by applying an etching solution followed by tooth-colored materials -- sometimes composite resins -- directly to the tooth's surface where needed.

Although bonding can last for several years, it is more likely than other types of restorations to chip or become stained or just wear down.

 

Veneers

These custom shells, typically made of porcelain (sometimes plastic), cover the front sides of the teeth to change their color and/or shape. Veneers last longer than bonding and provide a superior appearance. They are less expensive than crowns. Veneers can improve teeth that:

  • Have spaces between them
  • Have become chipped or worn
  • Are permanently stained
  • Are poorly shaped
  • Are slightly crooked

Before inserting veneers, the dentist first takes an impression of your tooth, then buffs the tooth before cementing the veneer in place. A beam of light helps harden the cement, which secures the veneer to your tooth.

Porcelain veneers are made in a laboratory, so you need a second visit to the dentist to have them inserted.

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