It’s no wonder cosmetic dentistry is growing by as much as 12-15 percent a year, as Americans are increasingly looking for ways to improve their appearance and hold onto to youthful features.

Cosmetic dentistry is a relative bargain compared to face and fanny lift, nose job or breast augmentation for women, who make up two-thirds of cosmetic dental patients.

All the while, overall dental procedures and technologies are making trips to the dentist much easier on patients.

Cosmetic dentistry runs the gamut from a tooth colored filling to full mouth construction,” says Dr. Ansley Depp who practices in Highland Heights and is president of the Northern Kentucky Dental Society, a professional association for dentists with 160 members.

“I’ve been practicing 18 years. When I came out of school in Louisville cosmetic dentistry was a tooth-colored filling or maybe a crown on the front tooth. Now we have invisible braces, lumineers or minimal preparation veneers” and titanium implants.

And thanks to new procedures, anesthetics and dental practices that stress a better bedside manner, people are less reluctant to turn to the dentist for beautification, especially the over-40 crowd that makes up 60 percent of the patient pool for cosmetic dentistry, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Many grew up without the cavity-fighting properties of fluoridated water and had no alternative to metal fillings.

Orthodontia was not the right of passage it is today, and years of swilling coffee have taken their toll on the pearly whites.

In cosmetic dentistry “the number one request I get is teeth whitening, followed by teeth straightening,” Depp says.

WHITENING
Teeth whitening can be done several ways, from DIY over-the counter whitening strips to professional procedures that can cost $400 and up, depending on the individual.

The method with the most predictable results, according to Depp, involves a tray custom fitted to a patients’ teeth filled with a whitening agent once a day for about an hour over a two-week period, with results lasting generally one to two years.

Light-assisted whitening, which is faster, is done in the dentist’s office using a similar whitening ingredient whose effectiveness is accelerated by the use of ultraviolet light that accelerates photoinitiators in the whitening gel, which whitens the teeth.

“It’s faster,” says Depp “but not quite as predictable as the tray method which is time-tested.” It takes about two hours and the results last six months to two years.

STRAIGHTENING
Growing up without braces doesn’t mean you have to live with crooked or misaligned teeth or go with traditional braces. Fairly new on the scene — in the last eight to 10 years — are retainers made of polypropylene or polyvinylchloride made by using a mold of the teeth and gums. It fits over the entire arch of the teeth, is worn most of the day and is harder to spot. It works slowly to move the teeth, with changes every two weeks.

VENEERS
The use of veneers, thin, custom-made moldings that cover the fronts of unsightly teeth, is one of the aspects of cosmetic dentistry that has made major improvements, according to Depp. The tooth is reshaped initially to allow for the added thickness of the veneer. A molded image is taken of the reshaped tooth and sent to a dental laboratory where the veneer is custom-made to fit your mouth. The veneer is applied with adhesive material, which bonds it to the original tooth structure.

“In the ’80s they were fake looking with a matte or flat finish and didn’t have a lot of shine,” she says. “Today’s high-tech materials have a beautiful shine to them and you can make them look very real. We can make them thinner now, so we take less of the original tooth away or sometimes none at all. In the past we often had to grind some of the tooth off. Now we can be more conservative and have a stronger material that lasts longer.”

Veneers often provide an alternative to traditional crowns. They cover unattractive gaps and can mask stained, misshapen or crooked teeth. Veneers are intended to last for many years, up to 20, says Depp. Unlike most bonding materials, veneers will not change color over time, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry site.

ODONTOPHOBIA
Improvements in anesthetic, more creative office procedures and better bedside manner are taking some of the anxiety out of cosmetic and regular dental visits as well, says Depp.

“There are fewer people traumatized by dental visits now. More dentists are becoming aware of how to treat patients to alleviate their fear. We use noise-canceling headphones, and there are ways of managing anxiety by using oral sedation. Putting you in a mild sleep phase can allow you to get more work done,” she says.

Boomers, especially, are keeping their teeth longer, but may have bad memories of childhood visits where the dentist didn’t use an anesthetic effectively so there’s no trust, says Depp. “Dentists and assistants have to win people’s trust. Bedside manner, something not taught in dental school, has come a long way,” she says.Rather than judging dental school candidates solely on skills, they are looking for people with better bedside manner.

Actually enjoying a visit to the dentist may be a long way off for some, but Depp sees it as a goal.

“One of the big goals is to get people to come in and grow through the process so they actually enjoy it. You’d be surprised once you get someone on a great preventative routine how it reduces the stress.

“It takes the worry away.”