They say one of the first things people notice when they meet someone is their smile, and, fortunately, there are lots of ways people can improve the appearance of their teeth and gums with cosmetic dentistry procedures. While the end goal of a beautiful smile remains, the look patients are trying to achieve — and the methods used to achieve it — are changing, as dental treatments become more modern and aesthetic dentistry evolves.
From dental veneers that mimic natural teeth to teeth whitening treatments that restore a more youthful appearance, we're rounding up the cosmetic dentistry trends that will have you well on your way to the perfect smile.
1. The New Face of Braces
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since those cringe-worthy Ugly Betty metal braces and the seemingly never-ending cycle of appointments to have the wires tightened. Clear aligners are becoming increasingly popular, not only for their improved aesthetics but also because of the convenience they offer. It’s much easier to adjust your treatment plan to fit around work trips and vacations because you don’t need to go to the dentist’s office each time you swap trays.
Orthodontics isn’t immune to the age of instant gratification either. Add-on services like PROPEL® allow patients to cut their treatment time in half in some cases by making micro-holes in the bone between teeth to help them move more easily. Not only can it speed up a treatment, but it can also allow Invisalign® and other brace systems to treat more complex cases than they could in the past.
- Average Cost: $3,000 to $5,000 for Invisalign® (plus, an extra $600 to $1,000 for PROPEL®)
- How Long Does the Procedure Take: Treatment time varies case by case, but averages around 15 months (this can be shorter when coupled with PROPEL®)
- How Much Does It Hurt: 4/10 — pain and tightness is common when changing trays but generally subsides after the first few days
2. Porcelain Veneers
Porcelain veneers are very thin porcelain covers that are custom made to fit a patient’s teeth. Dental veneers are nothing new, but advances in the way they are applied have made them more appealing to a younger group of patients. In the past, a large amount of the natural tooth had to be removed in order to securely fit veneers. Current techniques, however, allow for just a very thin layer of the natural tooth to be filed before fitting. Porcelain veneers can conceal a range of imperfections, and, thanks to the bespoke nature of each piece, patients are free to choose the color of each tooth and even whether or not they would like to include any ‘imperfections’ to make them look more natural.
While veneers can be used to correct discoloration, chips, and minor gapping, veneers do need to be applied to relatively straight teeth. For some patients, this means wearing braces or aligners before going ahead with veneers. Another common issue with veneers is that the finished smile looks too ‘perfect’ (yes, really!), but skilled dentists can mitigate this by advising patients about a natural-looking color and the inclusion of some intentional imperfections as appropriate.
- Average Cost: $1,000 to $2,500 per tooth
- How Long Does the Procedure Take: 2 - 4 weeks from the first appointment (when molds or scans are taken) to the final fitting
- How Much Does It Hurt: 1/10 — patients generally do not experience pain while having veneers fitted.
3. The Rise of Dental Implants
Patients who are conscious about the aesthetic of their smile are opting for dental implants as opposed to having a dental bridge procedure after a tooth is extracted or in the case of a missing tooth. Dental implants were, in the past, seen more as a treatment option for older patients, but that is no longer the case. A dental implant is, in effect, an artificial tooth with a metal ‘root’ that is implanted into the jaw bone.
The dental implant process does take a considerable length of time because the jaw bone has to grow onto the implant before the crown (artificial tooth) can be added. Dental bridges, on the other hand, rely on the teeth next to the extracted tooth to create stability. The remaining teeth are filed down, and the implant (a row of three artificial teeth) is secured onto the remaining teeth.
To begin the process, your dentist will take scans to check the health of the jaw bone in the area. If it is still in place, the damaged tooth will be removed and the jaw bone will be repaired, if needed. Your dentist will then place the metal post in the jaw bone and, once the area has healed, they will add on the artificial tooth. There will be a period of time between each step while the area heals, and the longest part of the process is the time it takes for osseointegration (i.e. the process of bone growing on to the implant). Like veneers, crowns are made to measure and can be personalized to give a natural result. The procedure is relatively invasive and does take time, but the results are usually excellent. The main criteria for patient suitability is bone maturity, good bone health, and not being a smoker.
- Average Cost: $1,000 to $3,000 per tooth
- How Long Does the Procedure Take: 6 months or longer
- How Much Does It Hurt: 7/10 — patients often report feeling some pain and discomfort during the procedure and shortly after. Your dentist will advise you on how to care for this and may give you painkillers to take during recovery between each step.
4. Natural-Looking Teeth Whitening
Teeth whitening remains one of the most popular in-office cosmetic dentistry procedures. The latest trend in whitening is patients asking for a more natural finish as opposed to going as bright and white as possible. To achieve a more natural result, dentists will often have patients spend less time with the whitening agent on their teeth or have less frequent treatments. The method and the products used remain the same.
One of the most popular in-office whitening systems is Zoom™, which combines a balanced hydrogen peroxide paste with a light that activates the product. Patients can expect their teeth to become up to eight shades lighter with Zoom™, so it’s worth discussing how bright you’d like to go with your dentist before working out a treatment plan. There are a few other systems on the market, and your dentist will be able to advise which is the most appropriate for you. Some dentists also offer an at-home version of Zoom™ which is only available via a prescription. Over-the-counter whitening strips can work too, although not as effectively as in-office or prescribed treatments. The ingredient to look for is hydrogen peroxide, which is the component that can lift stains from the surface of the tooth.
- Average Cost: $300 to $500
- How Long Does the Procedure Take: 30 minutes to an hour, on average
- How Much Does It Hurt: 2/10 — patients with sensitive teeth may feel mild discomfort
5. ‘Needle-Free’ Sedation
Anxiety medications like diazepam (read: Valium) are being prescribed for patients who are particularly nervous about a visit to the dentist or have a condition (think: an overly sensitive gag reflex) that would interfere with appointment. Dentists will generally ask patients who would like to be sedated during their procedure to take one dose of anti-anxiety medication the night before the procedure, a second dose when they get to the dentist’s office, and a third just as the procedure starts. This generally allows patients to relax — and sometimes even fall asleep — during their treatment. The best way to go about asking for needle-free sedation is to ask to speak to a dentist or dental nurse about your options before or during your initial consultation.
Nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) is another popular method of sedation that dentists can offer patients. It offers patients a feeling of relaxation as soon as it is inhaled, eliminating the need for sedation before going to the dentist’s office. Whilst it acts quickly, it can also wear off quickly, too, so that should be kept in mind when you are deciding which type of sedation is most appropriate for you.
Finally, if needles are not an issue, but you would still like to be sedated during a dental procedure, you can talk to your dentist about IV sedation. This method is usually used for more invasive procedures such as wisdom tooth extraction or implant procedures. IV sedation can take a little while to wear off, so you would need to be accompanied home by someone who would be able to take care of you for the rest of the day.
- Average Cost: $200+
- How Long Does the Procedure Take: Sedation using anxiety medication begins the day before the procedure; nitrous oxide works and wears off very quickly; IV sedation involves up to 24 hours of downtime
- How Much Does It Hurt: 1/10 — the only pain involved in sedation would be the needle scratch for an IV
6. Using AI to Predict Results
The rise of artificial intelligence in the aesthetic space is not a treatment as such — but still worth mentioning nonetheless. Many dentists are now able to use AI to show patients predicted results for cosmetic procedures before they undergo treatment. Using a combination of computer programs, patient data, and imaging, the programs can give patients a clear image of what their smile makeover could look like once treatment is complete. The method is particularly popular for orthodontics, where a change in the teeth’s position can have a significant impact on a patient’s overall facial structure.
Outside the dentist’s office, there are apps available to show prospective patients what they could look like after having their teeth whitened or undergoing more invasive procedures. The AEDITOR app, for example, allows patients to ‘try on’ procedures, including some that affect the jawline. The technology is yet another way for patients to make a more informed decision about how they choose to invest in their appearance.
It should go without saying, but the key to a sterling smile starts with your oral health. The health of your teeth, gums, and mouth requires meticulous at-home care (think: brushing and flossing at least twice a day), in addition to being mindful of what you eat and drink (more on how your diet affects your pearly whites HERE).
Professional dental services, like teeth whitening and straightening, can further improve the quality and appearance of your smile, while advances in sedation and patient care mean a trip to a dental office is no longer the frightening caricature of yesteryear.
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