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Money-Saving Cosmetic Dental Procedures

Tooth whitening can have dramatic results.

Cosmetic dentistry is becoming an area of growing interest for many consumers in recent years. In fact, last year, consumers spent over one billion dollars on tooth whitening products and services alone.

Cosmetic dental treatments can dramatically improve a person's appearance and self-esteem. Some people are reluctant to inquire about cosmetic dental procedures because they are wary of the cost. While it is true that certain extensive cosmetic dental procedures can involve a substantial financial investment, I will describe two cosmetic procedures that are less costly.

Tooth whitening involves the use of peroxide-based materials for in-office or at-home systems to whiten teeth. Before tooth whitening, the patient must get all cavities filled, and the gums must be healthy. Most in-office systems use 35 percent hydrogen peroxide gels coupled with a high-intensity light to whiten the teeth. The gums are protected, and then gels are placed on the teeth. A laser or plasma arc light source activates the peroxide to oxidize stains on the tooth surface. In about an hour, the teeth become five to eight shades lighter.

At-home teeth whitening kits use 10 to 15 percent carbamine peroxide gels to oxidize stains. The dentist makes impressions (molds) of the mouth, and then has soft mouth trays made. The patient is fitted with the trays, and then is instructed to place a thin ribbon of the gel into the tray and wear while sleeping. Most whitening occurs in one to two weeks. In difficult cases, trays must be worn for up to six weeks. I have found that a combination of in-office and at-home systems works the best, and routinely achieve between 12 to 15 shades of whitening. The procedure is safe when monitored by a dentist, and does not damage the tooth in any way.

Tooth shaping involves removing a small amount (generally 1 to 2 millimeters) of the enamel of the teeth. Tooth shaping can shorten long teeth, round off pointed teeth, and help create a pleasing smile that gently follows the contour of the lower lip. The procedure is quick and painless, and is usually completed in less than 30 minutes. A small minority of patients gets slight sensitivity after tooth shaping. This can be remedied with prescription strength fluoride or in-office desensitizers. The procedure does not cause any long-term damage to the teeth.

Always communicate with your dentist what your goals are when considering cosmetic dentistry. In many cases, a combination of procedures may provide both excellent and affordable results.

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