Cosmetic dental treatments

Expert reviewer Dr Steve Preddy, Dentist
Next review due February 2021

Cosmetic dental treatments help to improve the appearance of your teeth. Treatments may include tooth restoration, whitening or straightening your teeth. Before you go ahead with anything, it’s important to discuss with your dentist what’s involved with your treatment and the results you can expect.

Cosmetic dental treatments, such as tooth whitening aren’t suitable for everyone. Your dentist will tell you if you have any problems with your teeth, such as gum disease or tooth decay, which would complicate or stop you from having treatment.

Tooth restoration

Sometimes teeth can become worn, decayed or broken. If this happens, there are lots of different ways to help restore your teeth, including:

  • fillings
  • crowns
  • veneers
  • inlays and onlays

Your dentist will be able to advise which treatment option is most suitable for you.


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

If you need to have a filling to restore teeth that are visible when you smile, laugh or talk, your dentist may suggest using a tooth-coloured material called composite. It’s matched to the colour of your existing teeth so, unlike amalgam (silver-coloured) fillings, it’s less noticeable.

Before your filling is fitted, your dentist will give you a local anaesthetic. They’ll remove the decayed parts of your tooth and clean the cavity. Although composite fillings are strong, they’re not as durable as amalgam ones. Your dentist will be able to advise you on which type of filling is best for you. If a cavity has formed deep within your tooth or the centre of your tooth is damaged, you may need to have root canal treatment.


Crowns (also known as caps) sit over the top of a damaged tooth. They’re shaped like a natural tooth and can help improve the appearance of badly damaged or decayed teeth.

If your crown will be visible, it can be made of materials such as porcelain or ceramic. These tooth-coloured materials look very natural and help the crown to blend in among your teeth. You’ll 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 it. Then at the second appointment, your dentist will remove the temporary crown and fit the permanent one.


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, although other tooth-coloured materials, such as composite, can be used instead. 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’ll usually need at least two visits to the dentist. At the first, your dentist will prepare your tooth and take a mould of it. This is then used to make the veneer. On the second visit, your dentist will fix the veneer onto your tooth.

Veneers can last for several years, but they can break or chip just like normal teeth.

Inlays and onlays

Inlays and onlays are similar to fillings, but they’re made once the tooth has been prepared and then cemented in place. They can be made of porcelain to match the colour of your teeth, or gold.

Your dentist may suggest having an inlay or onlay instead of a filling if, for example, the cusp (peak) of your tooth needs repairing or you grind your teeth.

For more information and to see if this would be a suitable treatment option for you, speak to your dentist.

Teeth whitening

Teeth whitening uses bleach to lighten the natural shade of your teeth.

Although you can buy whitening products over the counter from some pharmacies and high-street shops, only dental professionals can whiten your teeth with a gel that has enough strength to effectively but safely lighten their colour. If you’re considering teeth whitening, speak to you dentist to discuss your options.

If you decide to have your teeth whitened by your dentist, they’ll use a specially made mouth tray (like a mouth guard) to apply whitening gel to your teeth. You’ll need to wear it for a set amount of time each day – how long may vary, so be sure to follow your dentist’s advice. Your dentist may give you the bleaching product and trays to use at home. They’ll explain how to use the product to continue your treatment. If you’re unsure about anything, ask – no question is too small.

To understand the different types of teeth whitening and what’s involved, see our information on teeth whitening.

It’s important to discuss any treatment and the results you can expect with your dentist. You may want to ask them how long they expect the effects of the treatment to last – for teeth whitening this can be up to three years.

It’s generally safe to have your teeth whitened by a dental professional, but as with every treatment there are some risks to consider. Although these side-effects should pass within a couple of days, teeth whitening may:

  • make your teeth more sensitive
  • irritate your gums – although your dentist should protect your gums by using a shield or gel during treatment
  • cause a sore throat

See your dentist if these symptoms don’t go away.

Straightening teeth

Straightening teeth involves the branch of dentistry that treats problems with the way the teeth align and fit together – this is known as orthodontics. Orthodontic treatment can not only help improve how your teeth look and function, but straight teeth are also easier to clean and so are less vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease.

Orthodontic treatment usually involves wearing a brace on your teeth. There are lots of different types of braces, including fixed braces, removable braces and aligners. You can find out more about the different types of braces with our information on straightening teeth.

Braces work by putting gentle pressure on your teeth to move them into the right place. You’ll usually need to wear a brace for between six months and two years, but it’ll depend on your teeth and the treatment you have. You’ll need to see your orthodontist every four to ten weeks throughout your treatment, so make sure you can commit to this before giving your consent for the treatment to go ahead.

Orthodontic treatment is usually done during childhood, but adults can have it as well.

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

Frequently asked questions

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Related information

    • Oxford Handbook of Clinical Dentistry. 6th ed. online. Oxford Medicine Online., published July 2014
    • Teeth whitening. PatientPlus., published February 2015
    • Fillings: the basics. Oral Health 2016; 10(3):18–20
    • Different filling materials. Oral Health Foundation., accessed February 2018
    • Root canal treatment. Oral Health Foundation., accessed February 2018
    • Crowns. Oral Health Foundation., accessed February 2018
    • Veneers. Oral Health, accessed February 2018
    • Hollins C. Levison's textbook for dental nurses. 11th ed. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2013
    • Different filling materials. Oral Health Foundation., accessed March 2018
    • Tooth whitening. Oral Health Foundation., accessed February 2018
    • Tooth whitening – the law. Tooth Whitening Information Group., accessed February 2018
    • GDC: position statement on tooth whitening. General Dental Council., updated March 2017
    • Malocclusion. MSD Manuals., last full review/revision September 2016
    • Everything you should know before having your teeth straightened. British Orthodontic Association., accessed March 2018
    • FAQ: How often will I need an appointment? British Orthodontic Association., accessed March 2018
    • Orthodontics for adults: the why, how, where and who? The British Orthodontic Society Guide., accessed March 2018
    • White fillings. Oral Health Foundation., accessed March 2018
  • Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, February 2018
    Expert reviewer Dr Steve Preddy, Dentist
    Next review due February 2021

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