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Sometimes little defects in teeth can attract more than their fair share of attention. The eye often seems drawn to the tiny chip in a front tooth; the slight mismatch in tooth size among adjacent teeth; the extra-pointy canine. If you find yourself staring at these subtle yet distracting features in your own smile, help is available — often with a minimally invasive, relatively inexpensive procedure known as tooth contouring (reshaping).

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Tooth contouring involves removing a tiny amount of tooth enamel with a drill to sculpt a more pleasing shape and make the tooth fit in better with its neighbors. The tooth is then polished for a smooth finish. The procedure is most often used on the upper front incisors and canines, which are your most visible teeth.

Cosmetic problems that can be corrected with tooth contouring include: small chips, uneven tooth length, slight overlaps, and tooth edges that are too flattened or pointy. It can even be used to correct minor bite problems from teeth touching unevenly during contact. Conversely, your teeth should not be reshaped if any bite imbalances could result from it. In that case, one of several other highly effective cosmetic dental procedures would be recommended. Tooth contouring can also be used to give teeth a more feminine or masculine shape, simply by rounding or squaring the edges.

What to Expect
The first step in the contouring procedure is to examine your teeth and diagnose how the reshaping will accomplish your goal of smile enhancement or correct a bite problem if you have one. This will ensure that the teeth being reshaped will not only look better but also will be healthy. Sometimes a reshaping of the root surfaces is required to protect you from gum disease. In that case, an x-ray may be necessary to isolate and protect the sensitive inner tissue (the pulp). However, most often tooth contouring only involves the removal of a bit of enamel — the hard outer covering of the tooth. Because enamel is not living and contains no nerves, you will likely not need even a local anesthetic.

You will probably feel some vibration as your tooth is gently sculpted, and then polished smooth. Reshaping one tooth usually takes less than half an hour — and the results will be obvious as soon as you look in the mirror! Sometimes reshaped teeth can be a little sensitive to hot or cold after the procedure, but this should last no more than a day or two.

Tooth contouring can be combined with whitening for a dramatically younger-looking smile. It’s also often used in conjunction with cosmetic bonding or dental veneers — both of which can be used to reshape teeth with larger imperfections.

What makes a smile beautiful? That’s a complex question, but some qualities of a lovely smile are immediately identifiable: good tooth color, shape and alignment are a few of the most important ones. If your teeth could use improvement in any of these categories, porcelain veneers could be just what you’re looking for.

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You may already know that a veneer is a thin covering over another surface. In dentistry, a veneer is a wafer-thin layer of super-strong porcelain that convincingly substitutes for natural tooth enamel. When bonded to your teeth, veneers can create a natural-looking, beautiful new surface. That’s because dental porcelain, like natural tooth enamel, is translucent and tough. But it doesn’t stain like tooth enamel does.

Recent years have brought remarkable advances in dental porcelain technology. These days, veneers can be made so thin that they can sometimes be bonded directly onto your existing tooth surface. In other cases, a very thin layer of tooth enamel — as thin as the veneer itself — needs to be removed to fit the new porcelain surface and make it look as lifelike as possible. Either way, the results are sure to make you smile.

Versatility of Porcelain Veneers

Veneers can be used to improve any of the following characteristics of your teeth:

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  • Color — Teeth can become stained by the foods and drinks we like, from smoking, and even normal aging. Veneers are available in numerous shades, from the most natural to the brightest Hollywood white.
  • Size & Shape — Teeth can become worn down from grinding habits, or may not have the shape or size you want to begin with. For example, some people consider rounder teeth more feminine and squarer teeth more masculine. Veneers can be shaped and sized in whichever way is most flattering to your face.
  • Alignment & Spacing — Veneers can be used to close small gaps between teeth or make slight corrections in alignment while improving tooth color and shape.

Limitations of Porcelain Veneers

There are some situations in which veneers would be inappropriate. For example, if you have significantly misaligned teeth or a large gap, orthodontics might be a more appropriate solution than veneers. And if you have lost a lot of tooth structure from decay or trauma (or a particularly severe grinding habit), it might be better to restore your teeth with porcelain crowns that cover the entire tooth.

Creating a New Smile with Porcelain Veneers

The first step in creating a new smile with porcelain veneers is to communicate exactly what you don’t like about your smile as it is now. It’s a great idea to bring in pictures of smiles you do like, as a starting point for discussion. It’s possible to see how veneers would look on your teeth in one of several ways. A model of your teeth can be created over which wax “veneers” can be placed; sometimes acrylic (plastic) or tooth-colored filling material can be placed directly onto your teeth to demonstrate the effect veneers would have on them.

Once the plan has been agreed upon, your teeth will be prepared by removing a small amount of enamel, if this step is necessary. Molds of your teeth will be taken and used by a skilled dental laboratory to create your veneers, and you will receive a temporary set of veneers to wear during the few weeks it will take to create your permanent veneers. When the veneers come back from the lab, they will be cemented onto your teeth.

Caring for Your Veneers

Just like the teeth nature gave you, teeth restored with veneers need gentle brushing and flossing every day. This will remove dental plaque and ensure good gum tissue health around the veneers. Regular checkups at the dental office will remain as important as always to your oral and general health. And keep in mind that as tough as veneers are, they may not be able to withstand forces that come from using your teeth as tools (to open packages, for example) or biting into very hard foods like candy apples — which isn’t good for your natural teeth, either! And if you grind or clench your teeth at night, you might be advised to get a custom-made nightguard to protect your veneers — and your investment.