The word “cosmetic” should be a clue; the goal of cosmetic dentistry is to improve your appearance by making your teeth look better. Although braces can be one way to improve the appearance of your teeth, braces are considered orthodontia rather than cosmetic dentistry, as the primary reason for braces is to improve function and prevent problems. Cosmetic dentistry includes teeth whitening, the use of composite or porcelain fillings (as opposed to metal fillings, which are more noticeable), veneers, and crowns.
Some of the techniques used in cosmetic dentistry are commonly taught in dental school. The use of composite resin and porcelain fillings, for example, are included in standard dental training. However, cosmetic dentistry requires additional training in a post-graduate course specific to cosmetic dentistry principles and techniques, so look for a certificate in cosmetic dentistry. Experience -- whether number of years of practice or number of procedures -- helps sharpen skills. Before you make a choice, ask to see before and after pictures of patients. As with any dentist, you should have good rapport and ensure all of your questions are answered before a procedure.
Cosmetic dental procedures differ in terms of time, cost, and number of appointments. Bleaching may mean a single session in the dentist's chair, although sometimes multiple sessions are necessary to get just the right look. Veneers typically take three sessions: the veneer must be made from a mold, the tooth prepped, and the veneer attached. For a crown, two visits are usually necessary -- one to make a mold and attach the temporary crown, and a final visit to attach and shape the prosthetic tooth. The technical difficulty of a procedure or the use of techniques like lasers may also affect the number of appointments needed or how long a procedure takes.
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