Esthetic dentistry is the practice of modifying teeth and gums to achieve a more pleasing appearance. Procedures such as these are also sometimes called cosmetic dentistry. The overall health of the mouth is usually taken care of prior to any cosmetic procedures, and it is generally expected that any purely aesthetic procedure will not detract from a person's overall oral health.
Many procedures can be considered esthetic dentistry, including tooth whitening, veneers, and braces. Each of these is a serious dental procedure and should only be performed by an appropriately licensed dentist.
It is perfectly possible to have healthy but stained teeth. Likewise, crooked teeth are not necessarily damaged. Stained, crooked, or otherwise imperfect teeth can, however, can have negative effects on a person's self image and even potential job prospects. Esthetic dentistry addresses this sensitive area of dental care. In fact, some people feel that the appearance of a healthy smile is more important to self worth than actually having good oral health.
Using braces to straighten teeth is one of the first esthetic dentistry procedures a person may have in his or her lifetime. Braces work to straighten teeth and are often applied during young adult years. Adults sometimes wear invisible braces, which are considered less distracting than metal braces. These oral health devices are so ubiquitous among young people that they have come to be frequently coveted by those who do not wear them. While they might seem to be essential for health, having straight teeth is typically considered an aesthetic consideration.
As adults, one of the most popular esthetic dentistry procedures is tooth whitening. Professionally, this procedure may be done with chemicals or lasers, and the results that can be achieved with materials in a dentist's office are often far superior to those achieved by use of a store bought product. Tooth whitening may not be able to achieve a pure white smile, but it can usually at least lighten the color of the teeth slightly.
Procedures that replace missing teeth are also considered esthetic dentistry procedures, although these also address the overall health of the mouth. Sculpting of teeth to achieve a better shape is another way to improve the appearance of individual teeth or the entire mouth. A person's gums may also be reshaped to make teeth look longer or more even. Many procedures address the size and shape of teeth, both by illusion and by actually reshaping the teeth.
What is desirable and socially acceptable in teeth is largely a matter of culture. For instance, in some communities, having entirely gold teeth could be considered acceptable or even desirable, and people might seek dental treatments that will give them gold teeth even when they are not necessary for oral health. As standards of health and beauty change, so too will the procedures popularly requested in esthetic dentistry.