Smile Makeovers

cosmetic dentistry Smile Makeovers: Cosmetic Dentistry Today

Until fairly recently, most people were satisfied if their teeth were straight and free of stains, chips or other obvious imperfections. But in the last few years, the combination of Hollywood glamour and advances in cosmetic dentistry has led to what might be called smile inflation. People often want their teeth to be perfectly uniform and dazzlingly white.

No one is sure how many cosmetic dental procedures are performed annually in the United States. Since 1996, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry has doubled its ranks to about 4,700 members. More than 95 percent of dentists offer bleaching products and virtually all dentists perform some types of cosmetic services.

Cosmetic dentistry rarely is covered by insurance. But despite the cost and inconvenience, many people feel that a smile makeover is just as important as buying nice clothes or having attractive hair. For models, public relations executives and others who spend their careers in the public eye, a high-wattage smile may be almost as much of a job requirement as showing up at work on time.

Advances in cosmetic techniques have also made it possible for dentists to repair damaged teeth without using amalgam or other unattractive metals.

I had crooked teeth for years, recalls Mike Gagliardi, 43, an account supervisor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News who decided to have his upper teeth capped to give them a straighter look. At one point, when the dentist took a break, I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. It was awesome. Good As New

Dentists have been doing cosmetic restorations for decades, but the materials that were used ? the early composite resins ? tended to stain, chip and change color over time, which limited their use.

New composite resins, invisible fillings, porcelain veneers and high-strength resin cements are stronger, long-lasting and do not change color over time. A few decades ago, people who chipped or broke a tooth either lived with it or had a crown (also called a cap) installed, a time-consuming and often expensive procedure. Crowns still are used sometimes, but it's often possible to patch minor imperfections, chips or fractured teeth with bonding composite resin that can be smoothed and color-matched to the surrounding teeth.

Cosmetic dentists have also pioneered a technique called computer imaging, that allows them to perform virtual restorations on a computer screen. A patient who is thinking about having work done can see what the results will look like before he or she makes the decision to go forward.

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