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Cosmetic dental treatments

Key points

  • Cosmetic dental treatments can improve the way your teeth look.
  • These treatments can help to repair, whiten or straighten your teeth.
  • Examples include having a crown or veneer fitted to repair your tooth, getting your teeth whitened or having orthodontic treatment to straighten your teeth.

Cosmetic dental treatments include any techniques that restore or improve the appearance of your teeth.

You will meet the dentist carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here, as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About cosmetic dental treatments

Cosmetic dental treatments can help to restore, whiten or straighten your teeth. They may be carried out by a dentist, but some require an orthodontist. This is a dentist who specialises in the prevention or correction of the position of your teeth.

Talk to your dentist if you have any problems with your teeth, such as gum disease or tooth decay, before having any cosmetic treatment.

Tooth restoration

Many cosmetic dental treatments can be used to repair your teeth. Your dentist will be able to advise you which treatments are most suitable.

Fillings

Fillings are used to fill holes (cavities) that have formed in your teeth, usually as a result of decay.

There are two types of fillings – amalgam (silver) and composite (tooth-coloured).

Before your filling is fitted, your dentist will remove the decayed parts of your tooth and clean the cavity. Amalgam fillings are made of a combination of metals including silver, tin, copper and mercury. Amalgam is extremely hard-wearing and can last for 15 to 20 years. Composite fillings can be used instead of amalgam as a natural-looking alternative. They are often used in teeth that show when you smile or talk. However, they don't tend to last as long as amalgam fillings. Your dentist will be able to advise you on which type of filling is best for you.

Crowns

If your tooth has been broken or weakened by a lot of decay or a large filling, your dentist may recommend fitting a crown. A crown is shaped like a natural tooth. It’s fitted over the top of your damaged tooth to disguise it. Crowns can be made of porcelain, gold or a combination of metal covered with tooth-coloured porcelain.

You will usually need to have at least two appointments to have a crown fitted. At the first, your dentist will prepare your tooth and place a temporary crown over your tooth. Then at the second appointment, your dentist will remove the temporary crown and fit the permanent one.

Veneers

If one of your front teeth is chipped or discoloured, a thin layer (veneer), can be made to fit over it. These are usually made of porcelain. Sometimes, if you have a small gap between your teeth, or if they are slightly crooked, veneers can be fitted to help them appear straighter.

You will usually need at least two visits to the dentist. At the first, your dentist will take a mould of your tooth, which is then used to make the veneer. He or she will also remove a small amount of the top layer of your tooth (enamel). On the second visit, your dentist will fix the veneer onto your tooth.

Veneers can last for several years, but they can be damaged just like normal teeth because of an accident, break or chip.

Teeth whitening

Whitening can be used to make your teeth look whiter. There are a number of different bleaching methods available to lighten the shade of your teeth. Some you can buy and use at home; others you will need to have done by your dentist.

Your dentist will discuss your options with you and advise you which treatment is the most suitable.

Whitening toothpastes

Some whitening toothpastes gently polish your teeth and can help to remove surface stains. However, these don't change the natural shade of your teeth. Experts are currently looking into how well these toothpastes work.

Over-the-counter teeth whitening kits

Over-the-counter teeth whitening kits are sold in most pharmacies throughout the UK. They usually contain rubber mouth trays (moulds that are approximately the same shape as your teeth) and tubes of bleaching gel. The bleaching ingredient is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The kits will only contain a weak bleaching agent, so may not be very effective.

Always speak to your dentist before using an over-the-counter teeth whitening kit.

Professional teeth whitening

You may be able to whiten your teeth at home. If this treatment is suitable for you, your dentist will give you a specially made mouth tray and some whitening gel. Usually, you can wear the mouth tray for around eight hours each day, over a period of about two weeks. However, this will vary from person to person and may differ from what is described here, so make sure you follow your dentists advice.

You can also have your teeth whitened at your dental practice, where your treatment will be supervised by your dentist. Power bleaching is one type of treatment that can help to make your teeth whiter. Firstly, your dentist will place a rubber seal around your teeth to protect your gums. Then he or she will put the bleaching gel onto your teeth and use a bright light to speed up the whitening process. This treatment usually takes one or two hours.

Possible side-effects of bleaching include tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. The long-term effects of using these techniques aren't known. These bleaching techniques can keep your teeth whitened for up to three years, although this will be different for everyone. Speak to your dentist to get an idea of how long the effects will last.

Straightening teeth

Orthodontic treatment is used to straighten or move your teeth to improve their appearance or function. Straight teeth are easier to clean and less vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease.

Orthodontic treatment usually involves wearing a brace on your teeth. This puts gentle pressure on your teeth to move them into the right place. You will usually need to wear a brace for between six months and two years. During this time, your orthodontist will monitor your teeth closely and make adjustments to the brace. Orthodontic treatment is usually carried out during childhood, but adults can have it as well.

There are several different types of brace. Some can be removed whereas others are fixed in place.

Removable braces

You can take removable braces out of your mouth at any time. They are made of plastic and usually have wires and springs to move specific teeth. Removable braces are commonly used to move your upper teeth. You will need to take your brace out to clean it, but otherwise you should wear it at all other times, including during mealtimes.

Fixed braces

Fixed braces (sometimes called 'train tracks') aren’t removed from your teeth until your treatment is finished. Fixed braces are usually made of metal, but can also be made of ceramic. They are glued to your teeth with filling material and joined together with a wire. You may need to have small elastic bands attached to your braces. These are used to keep the wires in place and are often available in different colours. Fixed braces can usually be used on both your upper and lower teeth.

Orthodontic treatment isn’t suitable for everyone. Ask your dentist or orthodontist to explain the options available to you.

Reviewed by Hemali Bedi, Bupa Health Information Team, July 2014.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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