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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.

'Smile Design' continued...

This is a surgery that can be done in the dentist's office, whereby the gums are pushed up so that more of the teeth show. "Surprisingly, there isn't much pain," Bellen says. "It's a fairly minor surgery."

You can also have your teeth shaped any way you want them to be. Bellen says that lengthening and rounding the edges of your front teeth can actually make you look younger. A lifetime of chewing (and especially of nail biting) wears down your teeth. Even after a facelift, worn teeth can add years to your appearance.

To shape a tooth, a cosmetic dentist may bond a resin or porcelain veneer or crown to it. Resin bonding is the older method. "It still is good and used a lot today," Malone says, but it doesn't last as long as porcelain, the newer material.

Resin may, in time, wear out or become discolored, whereas porcelain doesn't. The other difference is that resin bonding is done in the dentist's chair, usually in one visit. For a porcelain veneer, a mold is sent away to a dental lab to be made, then bonded on later.

In addition to shaping teeth attractively, a cosmetic dentist can give you pouty lips. "We take profile photographs of the lips," Bellen says, "If somebody wants a fuller lip, we can actually increase the bulkiness of the veneer," so that it pushes the lip outward.

Tetracycline stains can also be covered with veneers. "When tetracycline [a commonly used antibiotic] is given as a child, it tends to stain developing teeth," Bellen says. "It happens in bands -- striations across the teeth."

If your molars are a mess of metal fillings, that can be fixed by grinding them down and capping them with new porcelain crowns.

The Architecture of a Smile

Bellen says a cosmetic dentist can do just about anything needed to improve your smile, but he stresses the work must be carefully planned. "I go though a pretty detailed evaluation before I start any work at all," he says.

Your bite -- the way your teeth fit together when your mouth is closed -- is an important consideration. "You can put porcelain on everything and not pay attention to the bite, and have everything break down," Bellen says.

That means that before any veneers or crowns go on, your teeth may need to be realigned, and you may even need jaw surgery. "I, as a cosmetic dentist, will diagnose and plan the treatment," Malone says. Then he may involve other professionals, such as an orthodontist or an oral surgeon.

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.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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