Tooth reshaping, or dental contouring, is a conservative and inexpensive option to help improve the appearance of your smile.
Do you have a minor defect in your pearly whites that you’d like to erase? Seeing your dentist about tooth reshaping, also called dental contouring, could be the answer.
“Tooth reshaping and dental contouring are cosmetic dentistry procedures that deal with subtle changes to the teeth,” says Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer advisor and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. "But sometimes little changes can make a big difference.”
Imperfections or problems like slightly overlapping or irregularly shaped teeth, tiny chips in the teeth, or excessively pointy cuspids, can often be fixed with a little tooth reshaping and dental contouring.
What Is Tooth Reshaping?
Tooth reshaping, also called dental contouring, is a cosmetic dentistry technique that removes small amounts of tooth enamel (the outer covering of the tooth) in order to change the shape, length, or surface of one or more teeth. “Even a few millimeters of reduction in the right places can really improve the appearance of teeth,” says Dr. Harms, who has a private dental practice in Farmington, Minn. The process is often combined with bonding, a cosmetic dentistry treatment that uses tooth-colored composite material to sculpt and shape the teeth.
What's Involved in Tooth Reshaping and Dental Contouring?
Tooth reshaping is performed using dental instruments and abrasion techniques. Dental X-rays may be taken before the reshaping and contouring begin to ensure that your teeth are healthy. Your dentist will then mark your teeth with a pen to highlight areas that need sculpting. A sanding instrument is used to artfully eliminate or minimize imperfections on the surface of the teeth, and sandpaper-like strips may be used to contour the sides of the teeth. Finally, the teeth are smoothed and polished.
Pros and Cons of Tooth Reshaping and Contouring
Although reshaping and contouring are conservative approaches to changing the appearance of your teeth, it’s still important to weigh the pros and cons of these procedures to see if they're right for you.
Advantages of tooth reshaping and dental contouring:
Disadvantages of tooth reshaping and dental contouring:
- Cost. This is an inexpensive way to improve the look of your teeth. The procedure generally costs $50 to $300 per tooth, depending on how much work is needed. If the defect occurred due to trauma or an accident, your insurance may pick up some of the cost, says Harms.
- Painless. Because only surface enamel is removed in tooth reshaping and dental contouring, there’s generally no discomfort during the procedure and no anesthesia is required.
- Improves health of teeth. Removing minor overlaps and other imperfections where tartar and plaque can build up lowers your risk of decay and gum disease.
- Possible substitute for braces. In some situations, tooth reshaping and dental contouring can substitute for braces since they make teeth look a little straighter and eliminate minor overlapping.
- Subtle change. Unlike some cosmetic dentistry treatments, tooth reshaping and dental contouring will not dramatically change the look of your smile or make your teeth look whiter. For a more noticeable smile makeover, you may want to go with veneers. Tooth reshaping and dental contouring only eliminate small imperfections, whereas veneers cover the entire front surface of the teeth, giving them a completely new look.
- Risk of tooth damage. Depending on how much enamel is removed during tooth reshaping and dental contouring, teeth can become sensitive afterwards. And if too much enamel is removed, you can be at risk for tooth breakage.
Are Tooth Reshaping and Dental Contouring Right for You?
Tooth reshaping and dental contouring are best for people who just need tiny adjustments or repairs to improve the look and feel of their teeth. “It’s ideal for someone who has a tooth that is a little crooked, too pointy, or one side sticks out more than the other,” says Harms. However, dental reshaping and contouring are not appropriate for people with decaying teeth, root canals, or unhealthy gums.
Sometimes tooth reshaping and dental contouring are the first steps toward more extensive cosmetic dentistry work. Procedures such as veneers, tooth whitening, and crown lengthening can be performed months or even years after tooth reshaping and contouring.
But if you want to avoid the time and expense of major cosmetic dentistry, tooth reshaping and dental contouring could be just the ticket to a better smile.