Cosmetic Dentistry? Now, What is That Again?

When I tell people I’m a cosmetic dentist, I still hear, “What’s that?” It continues to surprise me that although cosmetic dental procedures have been around for over 30 years, people are still unsure what the term “cosmetic dentistry” means.

What is cosmetic dentistry? Cosmetic dental procedures refer to procedures which allow a tooth to be restored to its natural looking beauty, or procedures which enhance a smile’s esthetic appearance. If you have ever had a tooth-colored filling placed in your mouth, you have had a cosmetic dental procedure done.

A Bright Smile and Then Some

Is the purpose of cosmetic dentistry for looks only? Some people think that cosmetic dental procedures are for appearance only, and have nothing to do with the ability to bite and chew. This is definitely the case with teeth bleaching, however many people may be surprised to learn that when other cosmetic dental procedures are properly done, it incorporates the health and function of your teeth as well. Depending on which procedures are performed, cosmetic dentists also address the way the biting and chewing surfaces of teeth occlude or come together.

As people are living longer, cosmetic dentistry can help to restore the strength or performance of teeth. For example, if a person habitually grinds their teeth, they may end up with shorter, worn teeth. This not only looks like an “aged smile,” but he or she can’t bite as effectively and may have increased sensitivity. Porcelain crowns can restore the youthful appearance of the smile, and restore the shapes and function of the teeth. They can also rejuvenate your smile to a more youthful appearance. In my nearly 15 years of providing cosmetic dentistry, we have consistently found that people say they appear about 10 years younger after these procedures.

A Cosmetic Dentistry Buffet of Procedures

What kinds of cosmetic dental procedures are there? Although a cosmetic dentist has many ways of approaching an esthetic dental problem, I’ll mention four solutions that can be used. More likely, a combination of solutions are used for an optimal result.

Teeth bleaching is probably the most well-known of the cosmetic dental procedures. It can be done in the dental office or at home, and can brighten a smile by several tooth shades. However, it’s not the solution for everyone. Those not able to bleach are people who have tooth colored restorations in their front teeth (including fillings, crowns, bridges, etc.), those with gum disease or those with certain types of discoloration, such as due to tetracycline medication.

Porcelain veneers or crowns can not only brighten a smile but can also change the shape, length or positioning of teeth. They can “straighten” crooked teeth or fill gaps between teeth. These procedures strengthen the natural tooth through a bonding process.

A “gum lift” might be performed in certain situations if a smile looks too “gummy”, teeth appear too short or square, or if a gumline is uneven. This is very minor surgery with minimal discomfort, as gums heal quite fast with proper home care.

Q & A

QUESTION: Can cosmetic dentistry alone help my dental situation?

ANSWER: Sometimes other dental specialists may be needed to first treat a patient before the cosmetic dentist can begin. Examples of such cases may be patients who first require orthodontics (braces) to “move” teeth; gum or bone surgery to correct gum esthetics; or “implant” surgery to properly restore a specific dental problem. (Implants are titanium screws that are surgically placed in the bone of either the upper or lower jaw, on which a crown or bridge is placed.)

QUESTION: What kinds of dental problems can cosmetic dentistry address?

ANSWER: The dental situations cosmetic dentistry can possibly address include:

  1. Missing teeth or spaces between teeth.
  2. Darkened, yellowed or grey, stained teeth.
  3. Crooked teeth or “mismatched” teeth.
  4. “Gummy” smiles, where a larger proportion of the gums show when smiling.
  5. Too small, too large, too short or too thin teeth.
  6. Changing silver amalgam fillings to natural appearing, tooth-colored restorations.

QUESTION: How long do cosmetic dental procedures take?

ANSWER: The length of time for a patient’s cosmetic dental treatment depends on the type of procedure or procedures required. In other words, every patient is unique. For some patients, cosmetic dental treatment can be completed in one day. For others, preliminary work may have to be done first before procedures can be started. Each dental procedure itself also takes different amounts of time. For example, a tooth-colored restoration not needing to be processed by a laboratory can be completed in one appointment. However, bleaching teeth (during the night), on average, may take about two weeks.

QUESTION: What changes have you seen with your cosmetic dentistry patients?

ANSWER: One of the most rewarding parts of cosmetic dentistry for me is the positive changes I’ve seen patients go through. The catalyst is the enhanced smile, but the smile becomes such a part of the patient that it affects how the person sees him or herself. The patient hears endless compliments, which lead to more smiling, which leads to a more friendly appearance, and happier person. This in turn affects how the patient views his or her personal life, overall appearance, career, relationships and even life itself.

It is my hope that everyone will be informed on cosmetic dentistry, which allows them to make the best decisions for themselves. Cosmetic dentistry covers a wide range of procedures and can address a multitude of dental situations. If you are self-conscious about your smile or teeth, talk to a cosmetic dentist about what can be done for you.

Dr. Wynn Okuda is an award winning international leader in cosmetic dentistry. He is one of only 280 dentists in the world to be accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Dr. Okuda turned the dental profession on its head nearly a decade ago, replacing pain, fear, & discomfort with the Dental Day Spa system. His offices for cosmetic, restorative and implant dentistry are located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Dr. Okuda has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, American Spa, Shape Magazine, Better Homes & Garden, Health & Fitness Sports Magazine, New Woman, and dozens more!

Dr. Okuda is the founder of “Give Back A Smile,” a charitable foundation of the AACD which helps survivors of domestic violence throughout the nation to restore their smiles and lives. He has assembled nearly 1,000 cosmetic dentists nationwide to help fight against domestic violence.