What procedures count as cosmetic dentistry?

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Cosmetic dentistry includes procedures that focus on improving appearance by correcting the alignment, shape, and color.

Your smile is an important part of who you are. But if you’re currently dissatisfied with your smile, you’re not alone. Seven in 10 Americans admit to feeling self-conscious about their teeth, according to a recent survey.¹ Your smile doesn’t have to stay the way it is forever. Your dentist may be able to improve your smile through cosmetic dentistry.

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What is cosmetic dentistry?

While many common dental procedures can have a side-effect of making your teeth look much better, others are strictly cosmetic. Cosmetic dentistry includes any procedures that focus on improving appearance and facial self-image by correcting the alignment, shape and color of the teeth.²

The most common cosmetic dentistry procedures are whitening, veneers, and invisible braces.


Teeth whitening or bleaching is the most popular cosmetic dentistry treatment.³ In fact, cosmetic tooth bleaching is a $3.2 billion global industry.⁴ While various over-the-counter whitening products are available, dentist-provided whitening treatments are usually the quickest and most effective solution. Depending on the type of teeth whitening treatment you choose, a cosmetic dentist might be able to make your teeth two to nine shades lighter.⁵

During professional teeth bleaching, your dental team will first put a protective rubber shield or a gel on your gums. Then, they will either apply a whitening product to your teeth using a custom-fit tray or use laser technology to whiten your teeth.⁶

These teeth whitening procedures are powerful, but they aren’t permanent — make sure you continue practicing good oral hygiene afterward to make your teeth whitening last.

Many teeth whitening treatments can cause temporary tooth sensitivity or pain. If you have sensitive teeth, you may want to look into professional whitening treatments, veneers or at-home whitening options. 


Have you ever noticed that most celebrities seem to have impossibly perfect teeth? It’s not a coincidence. Veneers can instantly improve the shape, size, and color of your teeth.

Dental veneers are customized shells that fit over your teeth to improve their appearance. Unlike teeth whitening, veneer application is an invasive procedure that permanently alters your natural teeth.⁷

There are two types of dental veneers:⁸

  • Composite veneers - These resin-based coatings are applied to the teeth in a single dental visit and usually last from five to seven years.

  • Porcelain veneers - These coatings are custom-made to fit your teeth, requiring two dental visits. They typically last from 10 to 15 years.

Invisible braces

Orthodontia can also improve the look of your smile. If crooked teeth are your main concern, removable clear trays or traditional braces might be your best option. Ask your orthodontist or cosmetic dentist about what treatment is best for you. In most situations, teeth can be straightened in just six to 18 months.⁹

Other cosmetic dentistry procedures

Depending on the smile appearance you’re looking for, other cosmetic dentistry procedures might be a better fit for you. Gingival contouring can help if you have a really gummy smile.¹⁰ Bonding can help to repair chips and cracks in the teeth, while dental implants can be a good permanent solution for missing teeth.¹¹ Consult your dentist about the best plan of action for you.

Do I need cosmetic dentistry?

The simple answer is: no. Cosmetic dentistry is, by definition, elective and nonessential. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a huge positive impact. A recent study in BMC Oral Health found that teeth whitening can have a positive effect on overall quality of life.¹²

Of course, certain conditions may make cosmetic dentistry a more appealing option to you. The following dental conditions can negatively affect the appearance of your smile:¹³

  • Cavities

  • Chipped teeth

  • Teeth grinding

  • Periodontitis

  • Dead teeth

  • Stained teeth

  • Tooth decay

If you’re considering cosmetic dentistry, consult your dentist to discuss your options.

How much does cosmetic dentistry cost?

Cosmetic dentistry costs vary based on the complexity of the procedure and the amount of time required.¹⁴ The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry estimates that professional whitening treatments usually cost from $300 to $800, while an at-home bleaching kits from your dentist may be around $300 to $600.¹⁵ On the other hand, traditional porcelain veneers can cost between $925 to $2,500 per tooth, while composite veneers can cost $250 to $1,500 per tooth.¹⁶

Since cosmetic dentistry procedures are elective, they usually are not covered by dental insurance. However, you should check with your provider. To determine how much your cosmetic dentistry procedures will cost you out-of-pocket, discuss payment with your dentist and with your insurance provider before making a decision.

Is cosmetic dentistry worth it?

In the end, only you can decide whether or not cosmetic dentistry is worth it for you. When making a decision about how to improve your smile, be sure to consult your dentist to find out how much it might cost, how long it will take and which procedures would be best for your situation.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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