Cosmetic Dentistry

Cosmetic Dentistry - Teeth Whitening, Straightening, Veneers, Crowns and Bridges

 If you're unhappy with the appearance of your smile, cosmetic dentistry can fix pretty much any problem - at a price. Here's an introduction to the various treatments available privately in the UK. And if it's too expensive, you can even go on a ‘tooth holiday' and get cheaper treatments abroad.

Private cosmetic dentistry in the UK

If you've been for a check-up at a dentist offering private treatment recently, you may have been asked whether you'd consider ‘improving the appearance of your smile'. Dentists are very keen to use the latest techniques to whiten, straighten, or generally improve the look of our teeth.

If you're considering it, the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry has a database of dentists with post-graduate qualifications in cosmetic dentistry. They recommend asking a dentist for examples of their work and asking to speak to previous patients.

Teeth whitening

There are several different options available if you want whiter teeth, differing vastly in price and effectiveness. Whitening toothpastes generally contain mild abrasives, and therefore work by ‘polishing' the surface of the teeth. They can be useful at preventing the build-up of stains from tea, coffee, red wine etc, but are unlikely to noticeably whiten your teeth.

You can buy teeth whitening kits in the shops. These consist of a gel, usually containing hydrogen peroxide, which you use to fill a mouthguard that approximately fits around your teeth. Typically the gel is applied for 30-60 minutes, and about 10 applications are required. These kits cost around £100. These kits often contain quite a mild bleaching agent and therefore are unlikely to be as effective as bleaching by a dentist.

Dentists use a similar system to whiten teeth, but the mouthguard is specifically fitted to your mouth, allowing them to use a stronger bleaching gel, as it will not leak and damage the gums. The mouthguard is fitted by the dentist and then most of the bleaching treatments are done at home. This treatment will cost roughly £500 - tooth whitening is not available on the NHS.

The most advanced whitening treatment is ‘laser bleaching' or ‘power bleaching'. Here, a strong bleaching solution is applied to the teeth in the surgery, and the whitening accelerated using a laser. This treatment can whiten teeth in 1-2 hours, and costs around £800.

Teeth straightening

Orthodontic treatment to realign teeth requires wearing a fixed or removable brace for 6 months - 2 years. It is usually carried out during childhood, as treatment takes longer for adults. However, many adults do choose to undergo teeth straightening.

Modern braces are often made of transparent or tooth-coloured materials to help disguise them. ‘Invisible' tooth straightening methods such as ‘Invisalign' may be suitable for milder cases. These are removable transparent aligners which are meant to be more comfortable than traditional braces and practically invisible.

Some orthodontic treatment may be available on the NHS, if it is essential to the health of your teeth. If it is cosmetic, it will cost somewhere in the region of £500-4000, depending on how much treatment is required.

If you have slightly crowded teeth, this may be improved by ‘cosmetic contouring', where the teeth are slightly reshaped. This is a relatively quick and inexpensive procedure that may be used to correct other mild defects in tooth shape and alignment.

Tooth veneers

Tooth veneers are becoming an extremely popular way of disguising discoloured or mis-shaped teeth. These are thin layers of porcelain that are fitted over the visible surface of the front teeth which should last over 10 years.

Having a veneer fitted involves two trips to the dentist - at the first, the tooth enamel is filed down slightly and a mould of the teeth taken. A week later, the custom-made veneer is glued to the teeth. Local anaesthetic is not normally required for this treatment.

Veneers can also be used to make teeth look straighter, and to fill in gaps between teeth, as well as to mask chips, cracks and discolouring. Veneers are occasionally available on the NHS, but will otherwise cost roughly £300 per veneer.

Teeth crowns and bridges

Crowns can be fitted to restore teeth which have been badly damaged. The damaged tooth is prepared under local anaesthetic (the damaged parts are removed) and a mould taken. A temporary crown will be fitted while the final crown is prepared in a laboratory, and fitted with adhesive about a week later.

Crowns may be made out of several different materials, commonly porcelain bonded to a precious metal. They may be available on the NHS if there is a clinical need, although tooth-coloured crowns may not be available towards the back of the mouth. Privately, they will cost around £500, though it depends on the material used. Crowns should last at least 20 years.

Bridges can be fitted to replace missing teeth, as an alternative to dentures. The teeth either side of the missing one are fitted with crowns, which are permanently attached to either side of an artificial tooth. Metal implants can also be fitted into the jawbone to support a bridge. Bridges will cost around £900, though may be available on the NHS for front teeth.

Going abroad for cosmetic dentistry

As cosmetic dentistry is very expensive in the UK, many people now choose to travel to Europe to get their teeth fixed. In countries such as Hungary, Croatia and Poland, tooth treatments cost much less than at a private UK dentist - often less than half the price. Many companies offer ‘tooth tourism' packages, combining dentistry with a holiday to a foreign city.

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