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Smile Facelift

Our smile is, without a doubt, one of our greatest assets.  It not only tells the world we're happy or think something's funny, but it lights up our face and just makes us look better.  It does something else, too... it reveals our teeth... which isn't a problem if they're in good shape, but if not, less than perfect teeth have a way of limiting our smiles.  Feeling self-conscious is an awful state of existence, which has a way of preventing us from reaching our full potential and presenting our best image.  Lucky for us, today's dentistry can fix just about anything; giving us various options to obtaining those pearly whites, one way or another.

Cosmetic dentistry is a booming industry that offers smile solutions ranging from whitening to braces.  Solutions once reserved for celebrities and the wealthy; dentist chairs are now frequented by everyday people like you and me, who decide to improve their quality of life by fixing their teeth... so, they, too, can have a killer smile.  I've researched the most popular methods of cosmetic dentistry to share with you, but before we get into all that, I want to share my feelings about the issue.

I realize dentistry, at least in the US, is very expensive, and not something everyone can afford.  So, please understand I'm not suggesting you run to the dentist and get yourself in debt for the sake of perfect teeth.  However, what I am advocating is we all take care of our teeth the best we can.  And that doesn't necessarily mean spending lots of money on the latest and greatest cosmetic procedure.  It simply means keeping our teeth clean and healthy by brushing and flossing a couple times a day.  That's all I honestly expect from anyone who cares about their image and success in life.  That being said, let's get started.

Tooth Whitening

Tooth whitening, the most popular way of brightening a smile, is the process of lightening the enamel on teeth by using peroxide-based products, which oxide on teeth and causes them to get several shades whiter and brighter.  Once only available through a dentist, whitening kits can now be purchased just about anywhere toothpaste is sold, and on the average take about thirty minutes to use.  Having teeth whitened by a dentist is far more effective than doing it yourself at home, since the products dentists use are much stronger than the over-the-counter brands.  Basically, the peroxide is much more potent than the peroxide in the kits, so teeth whiten several shades lighter at a faster pace.  However, home whitening products have come far and most are very effective.  You may have to do it several times to achieve your desired results, but they're definitely worth a try if you'd rather spend your money on a new suit than pay a dentist!

One downside to whitening teeth is it can cause sensitivity and irritation to teeth and gums.  Typically, the sensitivity stops shortly after the treatment, but can last longer and be pretty severe for some guys.  It's important not to bleach any teeth that have cavities, since the peroxide will be able to reach the tooth's roots through the cavity; making sensitivity even worse.  Another concern with whitening, especially if done frequently, is it can weaken tooth enamel.  Weakened enamel can result in decay and cavities, so avoid overdoing it.

If you're interested in whitening your chompers, do your research and talk with someone who does it for additional tips.  I should mention bleaching does not normally affect the color of porcelain crowns and bridges or white fillings, which are usually white enough.  Bleaching is usually the first step to lightening stained teeth, however, if teeth are extremely discolored and whitening is not effective, veneers may be the way to go... if you can afford it.

Porcelain Veneers

Porcelain veneers are very thin laminates or covers that are bonded to the fronts of teeth.  They are made of ceramic/porcelain and look like natural teeth.  They are used to cover many types of imperfections: discoloration, chips, cracks, pits, gaps between teeth, and can even correct a crooked smile without the use of braces.  Porcelain veneers are a great option to crowns, since they're less expensive, and don't require teeth to be ground down like crowns or caps do.  They are resistant to staining caused by coffee, tea, wine, smoking, and food, so they should never need whitening.  Porcelain veneers can last up to fifteen years without needing any maintenance during that time.

Veneers are custom made to fit a person's teeth, so they are comfortable and feel realistic.  Normally, a minimum of the top six front teeth are veneered – from canine to canine (those fang looking teeth) – however, I know some guys who have done both uppers and bottoms.  The veneer is glued onto the tooth after some of the enamel is filed off.  That's a really simplified explanation of a more involved procedure, but that's the bottom line.  It usually take several dental visits to complete the procedure.  Guys with gum disease or decayed teeth are not candidates for veneers; however, periodontal disease and cavities can be corrected; qualifying you for the procedure.

There are some cons to porcelain veneers, which should be considered and discussed with your dentist before having the procedure.  Tooth sensitivity, since enamel removal is required, is one of the main complaints.  Teeth can become sensitive to hot and cold food and drinks.  Sometimes it diminishes with time, but not always.

Veneers are pretty tough, but they aren't indestructible.  Being porcelain material, they are fragile enough that breaking and chipping can occur due to teeth grinding, teeth clenching, eating hard foods, or being punched in the mouth by your girlfriend.  A little alpha humor for you, but you get what I'm saying... excessive impact should be avoided.  Damaged veneers can not be repaired, but must be replaced.  $$$!!!

Having teeth veneered is a permanent procedure, so once it's done – it's done.  Lots of thought and research needs to go into something this major, so be sure to make an educated decision if you ever opt for veneers.  Oh, and what do they cost?  Anywhere from $500 to $1,000 bucks per tooth.

Plastic or Composite Veneers

Plastic or composite veneers are another veneer option.  The composite material is shaped and bonded to teeth in one dental visit.  They don't look as natural as porcelain veneers because the material is more opaque, and doesn't have the shine or luster of teeth like porcelain does.  However, they are less expensive, starting at about $200 per tooth; however, you get what you pay for, since they only last approximately seven years.  Still, not a bad option at all.

Tooth Shaping

Tooth shaping does just that.  It reshapes teeth by removing a very small amount of enamel (1 to 2 millimeters).  Long teeth can be shortened, and jagged or pointy teeth can be smoothed out.  Rerounding teeth makes them appear more youthful.  Supposedly, the procedure is painless and quick, and not very expensive; normally costing between $50 and $75 per tooth.

The downside is it can cause some sensitivity.  My mother had it done, and said after a couple days her slight sensitivity was gone.  Sensitivity is a consideration, but probably not enough to keep from having tooth shaping done.

Gum Lifts

Gum lifts are a relatively simple procedure that remove excess gum that causes teeth to appear too short or uneven.  Recovery normally takes just a couple days, and the discomfort is not suppose to be too painful.  This procedure does not damage the gums... that is as long as an experienced cosmetic dentist performs the lift, who doesn't take too much off.  It's a quick procedure and cost from $100 to $200 per tooth.  Again, prices depend on the dentist you use.

Braces or Orthodontics

Braces or orthodontics are a tooth straightening option most often performed on young teenagers, but many adults choose to wear braces now a days, too.  There are some really cool looking braces on the market now, compared to when I wore them twenty-some years ago.  There is even an invisible option that many adults choose, since it greatly reduces the appliance's visibility.

The downsides are their expense – $4,000 to $5,000 – and the amount of time it takes to straighten and space the teeth – often a couple years.  There are other faster, cheaper methods of correcting misaligned teeth, such as veneers, which many adults opt to do.  An orthodontist, a specialized dentist who handles braces or orthodontics, or cosmetic dentist, is who you should see for a consultation to determine the best procedure for your situation.

Most of us aren't born with perfect teeth, and, often, even those who are end up with some sort of problem.  Taking proper care of your teeth is the first step in preventing trouble.  Again, perfect teeth aren't necessarily something we need to have in order to look great.  However, if you find you'd prefer to fix any issues you're uncomfortable living with – go ahead.  And if cosmetic dentistry isn't something you can afford right now, put it on your "to do" list for later.  Just always do your homework, and know what you're getting into before you do.  Now, smile!

by Aaron Marino

Pete and Pedro

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