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What is Cosmetic Dentistry?

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A man receiving a light treatment

Cosmetic dental treatments are dental procedures that aren’t medically necessary, you get cosmetic dental care specifically to change the appearance of your teeth, gums or smile. Typical cosmetic treatments include bonding, veneers and teeth whitening. A healthy mouth doesn’t have to have ultra-bright, impeccably aligned teeth. But if a perfect celebrity smile is what you want, modern dental cosmetic care can make it happen. 

Dental Bonding

Best for: repairing chipped, cracked and misshapen teeth.

What is dental bonding? This procedure utilizes a tooth-colored composite resin to restore chipped, cracked and sometimes even broken teeth. It can also be used to cover up discoloration or manage minor issues such as gaps between the teeth, or to lengthen a tooth that is shorter than others.  

How does dental bonding work? Your dentist will slightly roughen the surface of the tooth to enable the resin to adhere. He or she will then apply a liquid that will affix the bonding agent to the tooth. The composite resin is applied next, probably in several thin layers, which your dentist will mold into the desired shape. The resin material is then hardened by exposure to ultraviolet light.

Does it last forever? The bonding material can be damaged if you bite down into tough, dense or crunchy food or chew on ice, your fingernails or other hard substances. Otherwise, the restoration may typically last 5-10 years.

How much does dental bonding cost? About $300-$600* per tooth, depending on the complexity of the repair.

Dental Veneers 

Best for: changing the shade, shape and size of your teeth.

What are dental veneers? Veneers are a celebrity smile’s very best friend. These fingernail-thin overlays are custom-made to fit your natural teeth and can completely transform your smile. 

How do dental veneers work? Your dentist or a cosmetic dental specialist will analyze your smile, figure out how to correct it and create a model of the veneers for you to try on. Your teeth may need to be reshaped to properly fit under the veneers.  Bonding the veneers to your teeth requires roughing up the teeth’s surface before applying the substance used for bonding the veneer to each tooth. Your dentist will then carefully place and permanently affix the veneer to the teeth. The entire process may take three or more visits to the dentist. 

Do dental veneers last forever? While veneers are quite strong, they can crack or shatter under abnormal pressure. You should avoid biting down on hard-surfaced items like pencils or nails and be very careful about eating food that is very crunchy, sticky or dense. If you tend to clench or grind your teeth, your dentist might suggest that you wear a bite guard at night. With care, veneers should last 10-15 years.

How much do dental veneers cost? Here’s the bad news – they typically start at an average of $1,000* per tooth.


Best for: getting a brighter smile.

What is teeth whitening? It’s a process that uses peroxide of various strengths to remove surface discoloration and make teeth whiter.  You may be able to brighten your teeth by a shade or two using over-the-counter (OTC) products, but a professional whitening treatment typically provides more noticeable (and predictable!) results. 

How does teeth whitening work?  There are three options to choose from:

In Office: Your dentist applies a peroxide gel to your teeth, and then activates the solution via a high-intensity light. This takes about an hour, and depending on the condition of your teeth, the sensitivity of your gums, and your desired results you may need more than one appointment to complete the treatment. 

At Home: Your dentist will custom-fit a set of “whitening trays,” (flexible molds which you’ll place over your teeth) or will provide you with a kit that contains the trays and a peroxide gel. The whitening product used is weaker than the one utilized in the dentist’s office, but more powerful than an over-the-counter product. Typically, you’ll wear the trays for 4-8 hours daily over the course of ten days. 

Over-The-Counter: You can just choose a whitening kit or strips from the drugstore. These products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to brighten your teeth. The products you purchase over the counter will be weaker than those that a dentist can use.

Does teeth whitening last forever? No. To maintain that bright, white smile you may need a whitening treatment once or twice a year.

How much does teeth whitening cost? For a professional treatment, the average cost* is $450-$600, for an at home treatment obtained from your dentist, the average cost is $400-$500, and over-the-counter treatment costs $20-$50.

Smile makeover 

Best for: restoring a smile

What is a smile makeover? This is a total redo of your smile, perhaps to correct damage from an accident or illness. Or maybe you are a celebrity who needs an almost scarily-perfect smile.

How does a smile makeover work? Your dental specialist will assess your needs and choose multiple treatments. These may include a combination of veneers, bonding and whitening along with crowns, dental implants and potentially even gum reshaping. 

Does a smile makeover last forever? It depends on what combination of treatments were used. Check elsewhere in this article for information on the typical life expectancy of specific cosmetic treatments.

How much does a smile makeover cost? Depending on what procedures you need, you might pay a minimum of $50,000* for a comprehensive smile makeover and even double that cost. It’s difficult to suggest costs for such a personalized, multi-procedure treatment, so definitely get an estimate from a dental cosmetic specialist.

Are orthodontics (braces) cosmetic dental care? 

Not always. Sometimes braces are used to treat medical issues such as pain, dental disease or problems such as speaking or eating normally that can be caused by misaligned teeth.

Does Dental Insurance Cover Cosmetic Dentistry? 

Modern dentistry can give virtually anyone a perfect smile, but the cost of treatment can make these procedures seem out-of-reach for many. Typically, dental insurance doesn’t cover optional treatments, and cosmetic procedures aren’t medically necessary. Plus, dental insurance rarely pays to fix problems that existed before you purchased the policy. All that said, some dental insurance policies do offer limited cosmetic care such as teeth whitening and dental implants. Check your plan’s coverage documentation. 

Your other option is to join a Dental Savings Plan. Some of these plans do provide discounts on cosmetic care (along with 10%-60% off virtually all dental treatments). You can use the DentalPlans.com Search Tool to easily find Dental Savings Plans that do offer discounts on cosmetic care. Just select the “cosmetic” icon from the tool page and enter your zip code to locate the right plan for your dental care needs. Want to learn more? Give us a call 844-210-2558 and we can help you choose plan that’s best for you.

*We determined the average cost of treatments by reviewing dental fee schedules publicly available on DentalPlans.com. Fees can vary depending on your location, the type of care you need, the condition of your teeth and oral health, a dentist’s typical rates and other factors. Fees presented here are examples only.

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