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Glossary of Cosmetic Dentistry Terms

Cosmetic dentistry includes whitening and veneers.

Bonding -- The process whereby composite or porcelain/ceramic materials are fused to teeth.  Bonding can be thought of as cold welding. Strength is excellent.

Composite -- A type of material used to replace missing tooth structure. It is a highly specialized reinforced plastic. Composite is the closest material to natural enamel developed to date.

Dental Crown (Front and Back Teeth) -- A type of dental restoration that covers the entire tooth. Used when most or all surfaces of a tooth have been damaged, or when maximum strength is needed. A crown can be made of gold, porcelain fused to gold (PFM) or all-ceramic. PFM's often are the cause of black discolorations seen at the gum line. I prefer bonded all ceramic crowns for my patients.

Onlay (Back Teeth Only) -- Similar to a cap or crown, but requires considerably less trimming of the tooth. Although not absolutely necessary, the onlay usually covers the entire biting surface of the tooth. Previously, onlays were only fabricated in gold. The advent of newer, stronger porcelain makes it possible for onlays to be very aesthetic. Bonded all- ceramic onlays are my first choice for restoring a back tooth when the tooth is too damaged for a bonded composite filling.

Veneers -- A bonded cosmetic restoration, veneers can cover just the outside and edge of a tooth or can resemble a 3/4 crown depending on the amount of change necessary. Veneers are made of composite, porcelain or a combination of the two. Veneers can be divided into two sub-types:

  • Direct Veneers -- Composite bonded directly onto the teeth.
  • Indirect Veneers -- Made in the laboratory of porcelain/ceramic materials and then bonded onto the teeth.

Cosmetic Imaging -- Computer generated predictions of improvements are possible with cosmetic dental treatment.

Whitening -- Use of peroxide (not bleach!) gels to remove pigments from teeth. General agreement exists in the literature that teeth whitening does not damage enamel. Dental office and "at home" teeth whitening kits are available.

Cosmetic Recontouring -- Minor adjustments to the shape and size of teeth to enhance the beauty of smiles.

Bonded Restoration -- Any procedure that replaces or adds to natural tooth structure via the bonding process. Bonding back teeth is highly desirable because doing so greatly increases strength. Old-style silver (amalgam) fillings do not bond well and are usually not bonded.

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