What is Cosmetic Dentistry?

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“Dear Ceslie,

My general dentist tells me that my dental health is great, but, I want to improve my smile and I think a Cosmetic Dentist could help me look younger. I’m just not sure what the difference is between “general dentistry” and “cosmetic dentistry.” I have 2 questions: Can you explain the difference and give me some info on how to find the right doctor for me? Still smiling!

--Amanda Lyon, Orange County, CA



Hi Amanda!

These are excellent (and a bit complex) questions! I’ve turned to our Board Certified cosmetic dental expert: Dr. Robert Schwartz. I know “Dr. Bob” from his participation as an expert in many leading women’s magazines.

So, here is his response to your two questions:” What is Cosmetic Dentistry? It is a specialty area of dentistry?....

Tell me, would you go to a general physician who has no cosmetic medical or surgical training for performing a face lift, tummy tuck or any other myriad of procedures that are included in plastic surgery or dermatology? The same reasoning applies here. Why would you choose to go to a general, although possibly very competent and skilled dentist who had minimal or no cosmetic training? The oldest cosmetic dental organization in the United States and the world is the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF COSMETIC DENTISTRY (AACD). It was formed over 20 years ago by creative, artistic, compassionate and exceptional dentists who were ahead of their time and who realized that the current practice of dentistry, at that time, was not keeping up with the changes in cosmetic dental materials and not addressing their patients individual cosmetic dental needs.

Cosmetic dental patients spend thousands of dollars every year to maintain and enhance their appearance. If you are entrusting your life (and your smile) with someone, why not go to the best? Make sure your Cosmetic Dentist is certified by the AACD. I know most of you have seen popular “makeover” shows. While these may be entertaining , do your homework about “professionals” you see touted on TV. Some dental organizations, companies and teaching institutes have been promoting their organizations as the only one that has produced competent cosmetic dentists that you should go to. THIS IS NOT TRUE. So, don’t let entertaining television be a substitute for credentials. Additionally, more conservative cosmetic dental approaches were possible that were currently not being taught at that time to the dental profession that could enhance a person’s smile quickly, easily and often painlessly.

For example, in the mid 1980’s, most general dentists would prepare a full crown (which is the complete drilling away of the outer tooth surface and replace it with a metal covered white porcelain full crown) to alter the tooth appearance and smile. This was often an invasive, tedious and mildly to severely uncomfortable procedure for the patient, who was then obligated for the rest of her life to maintain the crown if problems occurred. Toward the middle and end of the 1980’s, cosmetic dental materials and techniques had begun to dramatically improve, which included more durable and aesthetically pleasing composites and composite adhesives as well as improved porcelains that would allow non-metallic porcelain or composite resins to be bonded directly to tooth structure with minimal or no tooth reduction. Additionally, teeth whitening (or bleaching) materials were improving toward the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In-office teeth bleaching (“Power Bleaching”) had been available for years, but now it was also possible to bleach your teeth safely at home using a tray of some sort and special bleaching or whitening systems.

In conclusion, “cosmetic dentistry” or “aesthetic dentistry” is the alteration of the smile, either by whitening the teeth, reshaping and recontouring the teeth or changing the outer appearance of the teeth completely. This can be done through in-office “Power Whitening,” conservative tooth recontouring and reshaping, the addition of an outer composite bonding layer, or the addition of an outer porcelain veneer layer to cover up the original tooth imperfections or discolorations. Additionally, all of the previous methods can be used in conjunction with orthodontic treatment if necessary or desired - to straighten crooked teeth that are too far out of alignment for routine cosmetic treatment and to allow for a better result; periodontal treatment to remove unsightly gum tissue or to make the teeth appear longer or the smile less “GUMMY” and even oral surgery and implants to replace missing teeth or gaps that may be under bridges or replaced by full or partial dentures.

Now, how to find the right Cosmetic Dentist for you: There are a number of methods of finding a good cosmetic or aesthetic dentist. First of all, you should look for someone in your area that advertises or offers complimentary or minimally priced consultations for a quick 5-minute “look” at your teeth and for you to say hello and meet the doctor. You have every right to meet the person who may possibly help change your life for the positive, hopefully, without having to spend a bundle in the process. Every person is a unique individual with specific needs, wants, personality, and every Cosmetic Dentist, even if very qualified, may not be right for any individual that walks into his or her office.

In my practice, I make sure my potential patients really understand what their cosmetic problems or needs are and what they may potentially be getting themselves into. You may meet a dentist who seems great at the first meeting and very enthusiastic, but does not have the time, skills or ability to help you design your perfect smile. Additionally, you may meet someone who you cannot even minimally connect to and who you may feel does not understand you or your needs.

This is the hard part - how do you determine if you have the PERFECT COSMETIC DENTIST? Meet the dentist at a quick “look-see” meeting, hopefully for a minimal amount of money or even for free (some dentists offer free consults routinely). You will be able to screen the doctor as well as hear his or her quick gut feeling if you are a likely candidate for cosmetic dentistry. Ask to see some before and after photos of his own cosmetic dental work similar to the work that you are interested in and not some canned photo of a model he or she has never met (though she may ask you in the future, if you proceed with treatment, to bring in photos or old pictures of what you would like your future smile to look like). Ask the dentist if they are a member of any cosmetic dental organization, such as the AACD. Additionally, ask if they have any references from old patients that have undergone similar treatment and that possibly may be willing to speak to you. Also, they may have testimonial letters of real people and their experiences with this dentist. Good Luck!

photo © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

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