Cosmetic dentistry, as the name implies, is focused on appearance. However, some cosmetic dental procedures also solve functional problems. Replacing a missing tooth with an implant is primarily for functional purposes, but it also improves the appearance. Bleaching is perhaps the best-known cosmetic procedure. Resin composite or porcelain materials used to fill cavities, chips or rough spots serve both cosmetic and functional purposes, as do crowns that cover broken or badly decayed teeth. Cosmetic dentistry does not include orthodontics, which does improve the appearance of the teeth but is primarily used to improve function and correct problems like misalignments.
The basics of some cosmetic dentistry procedures (tooth whitening is a good example) are taught in dental school. Cosmetic dentists, however, attend post-graduate training, which includes principles of aesthetics and special dental techniques. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists has developed standards of practice for cosmetic dentists; membership is an indication of competence. Experience makes a difference in cosmetic dentistry: the old “practice makes perfect” adage. Many cosmetic dentists have before-and-after pictures, or they provide patient testimonials. As with any dentist or health professional, the ability to build rapport, compassion and understanding are as important in a cosmetic dentist as the technical skill.
Cosmetic procedures differ, as does the amount of time needed for each procedure and the techniques used. For example, for tooth whitening, a single chair-side bleaching may be all that’s necessary. Veneers take more time, and several visits are usually required to make the veneer, prep the tooth and attach the veneer to the tooth. Crowns take two visits; the first is to make a mold and attach a temporary crown, while the second is to attach and shape the permanent crown. The use of special materials, techniques or equipment such as lasers can also affect the technical difficulty and length of a procedure.
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