Dentistry is no longer just a case of filling and taking out teeth. Many people turn to cosmetic dentistry, or ‘aesthetic dentistry’, as a way of improving their appearance from slight twists in their teeth to discolouration. They do this in the same way they might use cosmetic surgery or even a new hairstyle. The treatments can be used to straighten, lighten, reshape and repair teeth. Cosmetic treatments include veneers, crowns, bridges, tooth-coloured fillings, implants and tooth whitening.
Dentures are removable false teeth made of acrylic (plastic), nylon or metal. They fit snugly over the gums to replace missing teeth and eliminate potential problems caused by gaps.
Gaps left by missing teeth can cause problems with eating and speech, and teeth either side of the gap may grow into the space at an angle. Sometimes, all the teeth need to be removed and replaced.
You may therefore need either:
- complete dentures (a full set) – which replace all your upper or lower teeth, or
- partial dentures – which replace just one tooth or a few missing teeth
Dentures can help to prevent problems with eating and speech and, if you need complete dentures, they can also improve the appearance of your smile and give you confidence.
Professional bleaching is the most common form of tooth whitening. Your dental team will provide you with the whitening product for your teeth, using a specially made tray which fits into your mouth like a mouthguard. The ‘active ingredient’ in the product is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth colour is made lighter. Once your dental team has started this treatment you may be given the trays to take home and continue the treatment, or you may need more appointments with the team.
This treatment can take around 3 to 4 weeks, depending on how long you keep the trays in your mouth each time, and how much whiter you want your teeth to be. It is important to remember that only natural teeth will be whitened, and that any crowns, bridges or dentures you have will stay the same shade.
Teeth can be straightened with orthodontics (braces). This is usually done during the teenage years, when the jaws are going through a period of growth. However, many adults also have treatment to straighten their crooked teeth or to improve their appearance. The treatment can take much longer in adults and is therefore more expensive. Some people have clear or plastic braces, which are hardly noticeable.
If you are considering orthodontic treatment, first see your dental team and get their advice. Your dental team can talk to you about your treatment options and if necessary refer you to an orthodontist, a dentist who specialises in straightening teeth. There are also now ‘invisible’ braces. Your dentist will make you a series of clear plastic shields (like a mouthguard) which need to be worn all day and gradually move your teeth into a new position.
For over 150 years standard fillings have been made out of a silvery-grey material called ‘amalgam’. This is considered one of the strongest and longest-lasting materials for fillings. However, many people find it unattractive and some are concerned about possible health risks. White fillings are now a popular alternative to amalgam fillings. The new dental materials mean it is much easier to find a perfect match for the shade of a particular tooth. In most cases, it is quite impossible to see that the tooth even has a filling. Sometimes white filling material can be used to cover unsightly marks on teeth, in a similar way to veneers.
Crowns, Bridges or Veneers:
When a tooth is badly broken or heavily filled, the dentist may need to crown or ‘cap’ it to restore its appearance and strength. The usual method for fitting a crown involves shaping the tooth under local anaesthetic and then taking an impression using a rubber-like material. The impression is then sent to the laboratory along with the details of the shade to be used, and the technician makes the crown. While your crown is being made, the prepared tooth can be protected with a temporary crown. This is easily removed just before fitting the permanent one. In most cases, the temporary crown is in place for about two weeks. Crowns can be made of a variety of different materials, such as porcelain or porcelain bonded to gold. New materials are continually being introduced. It is a good idea to talk to your dental team about which crown would be best for you.
Bridges are ideal for people who don’t like dentures and only have a few teeth missing. Bridges are usually made by putting a crown on the teeth on either side of the gap and attaching a false tooth in the middle. The bridge can’t be removed. These bridges are usually made of precious metal bonded to porcelain. Sometimes other non-precious metals are used in the base to give it extra strength.
Veneers are thin slices of porcelain. These are precisely made to fit over the visible surface of your front teeth, like a false fingernail fits over a nail.
Veneers are an ideal way of treating discoloured or unsightly teeth, closing gaps between front teeth, or repairing chips and cracks. A small amount of enamel is removed from the tooth, usually the same thickness as the veneer will be. The dental team take an impression and send it to a dental technician, who makes the veneer in a laboratory. The veneer is then bonded to the tooth to form a strong and natural-looking repair.
Preventive dentistry is the modern way of helping you keep a healthy mouth. It helps you to keep your teeth, and means you need to have less dental treatment. The two main causes of tooth loss are decay and gum disease. The better you prevent or deal with these two problems, the more chance you will have of keeping your teeth for life.
When the dental team and patient work together, this can help to prevent the need for treatment – especially fillings and extractions. Your dental team may recommend a course of treatment to get your mouth into good condition, and then work out a ‘maintenance plan’ to help you keep it that way. This can be either done solely by a dentist or a dentist and hygienist combination.