We need our teeth to function in order to properly chew food, but there’s also a psychological need for our teeth to look good. When we feel good about our teeth, we smile more. When we smile more, we feel better about ourselves.
And that’s where cosmetic dentistry comes in.
Unlike traditional dentistry that focuses solely on oral hygiene and preventing, diagnosing, and treating oral disease, a cosmetic dentist is trained to improve the appearance of a person’s smile—providing elective treatments like bleaching, bonding, reshaping, recontouring, and applying crowns and veneers (many cosmetic dentists also offer traditional dentistry services).
According to dentists.org, “Cosmetic dentistry is just like plastic surgery in the sense that a successful outcome depends heavily on the professional you choose to take care of your procedure.”
The most rewarding aspect of the job, for many cosmetic dentists, is seeing their patients’ self-esteem skyrocket.
When looking for a cosmetic dentist, it pays to do your homework. According to award-winning Minneapolis-based cosmetic dentist Dr. Nancy Norling, you should ask for meaningful credentials, inquire about expertise and training (not all cosmetic dentists know and perform all cosmetic procedures), make sure the dentist is knowledgeable about your teeth’s form and function, and seek out artistic excellence. Cosmetic dentists take many factors into consideration when helping patients find their perfect smiles — factors such as facial shape, image aspirations, and age. It really is an art as well as a science.
“Spend time looking at photos of the cosmetic work he or she has done,” Dr. Norling says. Before-and-after images in portfolios and galleries should highlight the dentist’s best work.
According to Dr. Drew Spencer of Edina 5-0 Dental, located in the heart of Edina’s 50th and France shopping area, ask for a consultation. Ask questions. Does the dentist listen to your concerns? Does he or she take the time to carefully explain all available options? Do they provide references?
And don’t forget that age-old saying, “You get what you pay for.” When it comes to cosmetic dentistry, you’re paying for not only the dentist’s training, specialized skills, innate talent, and experience, but also the quality of the dental lab used to define your smile.
A cheap alternative could wind up being more costly in the long run, especially if you have to deal with the nightmare of needing work repaired or—even worse—completely re-done down the road.
WHITER THAN WHITE, BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT
For over 100 years, dentists have been whitening teeth in an effort to give their patients pearly whites. Modern day bleaching, however, didn’t really begin until the 20th-century (1989 to be exact). Since then, patients have requested tooth whitening procedures more often than any other cosmetic procedure. The reasons vary—genetics, age, discoloration caused by nicotine, certain medications, acidic foods, or drinks like tea, coffee, soda, and red wine.
“So many people are interested in getting their teeth whitened today. You see it almost everywhere you look,” says Dr. Ned Windmiller of Windmiller Distinctive Dentistry in Stillwater. “The dental industry has actually had to change their standards of what is white. The grading has been changed because what was white in the past doesn’t pass for white today.”
Professional in-office whitening procedures such as BriteSmile, Zoom!, and laser bleaching can whiten teeth dramatically in as little as an hour. Other whitening options include at-home treatments such as custom-fitted bleaching kits, foam trays, whitening strips, and whitening toothpaste. However, only a trained specialist can diagnose the type of stain and the whitening system that will work most effectively.
“I don’t recommend whitening toothpastes—they’re abrasive and rarely make much of a difference in the color of teeth because the whitening agent isn’t in contact with the teeth for long enough to take action,” says Dr. Anthony Boe of Boe Family Dentistry in Long Lake. “In our office, we offer both in-office whitening and take-home custom tray systems. Both are good options.”
In-office whitening yields instant gratification, but the “gold standard” of whitening, according to Dr. Boe, is the custom trays.
Either way, tooth whitening is safe, effective, affordable, and has very little side effects (although some people complain of tooth sensitivity during the early stages of treatment). Results of in-office tooth whitening can last anywhere from 18 months to three years.
TOOTH BONDING AND VENEERS
For those who might not be a candidate for bleaching, and for patients wanting a more comprehensive change to their overall smile, porcelain veneers, restorations, bonding and contouring can be the answer.
The results can be life-changing—building self confidence through a more vibrant, attractive appearance.
Tooth bonding is a quick, painless procedure involving a thin resin applied over stained, chipped, cracked or misaligned teeth. Bonding can change tooth color, shape and size, and is excellent for small chips and gaps on one or two teeth.
When multiple teeth are involved, porcelain veneers are the way to go. Veneers are ultra-thin long-lasting custom-designed laminates affixed directly to the teeth. They look and feel like natural teeth, can make dark teeth seem bright white, and are intended to last for many years.
Porcelain veneers can close spaces in teeth, change the shape and size of teeth, and replace various shades of resin bonding for a fuller, more radiant smile.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY SMILE
Once we’ve invested in whitening, veneers, crowns, or dental implants, how do we keep our teeth and gums in tip-top shape?
Obviously brushing and flossing should be part of a consistent oral hygiene routine, along with scheduling routine check-ups, and drinking plenty of water.
“Foods that are low in sugar and low in acid are healthiest for your teeth,” says Dr. Stacy Roszkowski of Lifelong Dental Care in West St. Paul. “Drinking soda, Gatorade-type drinks, and other sugary-acidic beverages can really destroy tooth structure quickly.”
Many teens are replacing soda with energy drinks, “only to find that they have a mouth full of cavities,” Dr. Roszkowski says. Many teens have been taught that sugary soda is bad for their teeth, but not necessarily the potential hazards of acidic energy drinks on tooth enamel. If you do drink energy drinks, swish your mouth with water, chew gum, and don’t brush for at least 30 minutes. (The friction of brushing can further erode enamel.)
“The key to anything is moderation,” says Dr. Roszkowski.
Another enemy of healthy teeth is sour candy because of the sugar/acidity combo and the fact that sour candy has a tendency to stick to teeth.
It’s not just food, drinks, and poor oral hygiene habits that can wreak havoc on teeth. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, about one in three people suffers from bruxism—grinding or clenching teeth—particularly “people who are aggressive, competitive and hurried” (ie: feeling anxious and/or dealing with large amounts of stress).
Dr. Samira S. Mahabadi of Bassett Creek Dental in Golden Valley comments, “Grinding is not a habit we can break because most of the time it occurs at night while we are sleeping and not aware of it.”
Grinding teeth can cause micro-cracks in the enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay. Tooth grinding can also cause headaches, muscle pain, and jaw injury. Sometimes people don’t realize they’re grinding their teeth until a dentist spots the problem during a check-up (just one more reason to keep those regular appointments).
The solution, says Dr. Mahabadi, can be a custom-fitted mouth guard worn at night, “to protect your teeth from further damage.”
You can also protect your teeth through a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts—they have antioxidants and nutrients to strengthen immunity and help fight bacteria and inflammation, says Dr. Drew Spencer of Edina 5-0 Dental. “While dairy products, like milk and cheese, have calcium and Vitamin D to support bone growth and recharge tooth enamel,” he comments.
Other helpful tips when it comes to eating and drinking: don’t chew ice (it can lead to tiny cracks that can develop into serious problems down the road), drink green tea, and use water as a rinse after eating.
10 TIPS FOR HEALTHY, WHITE TEETH
- Make regular appointments with your dentist every 6 months to have your teeth cleaned and keep your appointments. Don’t wait until a painful emergency situation warrants a phone call.
- Your teeth—like your skin—is porous. Once stains penetrate the surface layer, they can clog (stain) these pores. If it can stain a white t-shirt, it can stain your teeth, so be wary of coffee, tea, soda, red wine, soy sauce, berries, and curry. Drink water to help wash away stains before they set in.
- Fibrous foods like apples, celery, carrots, spinach, broccoli and lettuce actually work to remove stains by exfoliating teeth before the stain molecules have time to set into the teeth’s molecules.
- Try naturally whitening your teeth by eating strawberries. Blend strawberries into a purée and rub the mixture along the surface of your teeth.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or so.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Chew sugar-free gum after eating to break down food particles still in your mouth. Trident has the sugar substitute xylitol. Unlike other sugar substitutes, xylitol can’t be broken down into an acid by bacteria in your mouth.
- Eat more fruits and veggies. Make huge salads. Avoid fast food and processed food as much as possible. Avoid constant snacking. All of this will help give you brighter, whiter teeth with fewer cavities.
- Invest in an electronic toothbrush.
- Floss your teeth every evening to prevent costly repairs. It only takes a minute. Do it!
Dental Resource Guide
Bassett Creek Dental
Golden Valley • 763-546-1301
Boe Family Dentistry
Long Lake • 952-475-0989
Edina 5-0 Dental, P.A.
Edina • 952-922-8111
Lifelong Dental Care
West St. Paul • 651-457-4888
Nancy Norling DDS
Minneapolis • 952-544-4129
Windmiller Distinctive Dentistry
Stillwater and Wayzata • 651-439-8840