Patients More Interested in Whiter Teeth than a Healthier Smile

Some patients come to the dental office more interested in improving the color and shape of their teeth than in getting their cavities filled, reports the Academy of General Dentistry. Bleaching, composite resins, porcelain veneers, bonding and other cosmetic dental procedures are driving the $15-billion-a-year-and-growing cosmetic dentistry industry.

“Bleaching, for example, gives patients an immediate change, and that’s what they want–something fast,” says Ronald Feinman, DMD, spokesdentist of the Academy of General Dentistry. “Bleaching is a noticeable improvement. But most patients realize that they also need to have the cavities treated as well.”
“And it’s not just for the 20-something set,” says Dr. Feinman. “The over-50-crowd, or the Baby Boomers, with its extra disposable income comprises a major segment of this market.”

They may have finally come to an age when they can fulfill their dream of having an ideal smile, and they don’t mind spending their money on elective cosmetic dental procedures.

A dentist would define an ideal smile as one that has a repetition of tooth shape, color, line and texture where the size, shape and position of teeth are in harmony and in relative symmetry to one another. If a patient has missing teeth, excessive gingiva, uneven teeth or dark teeth, the patient may feel self-conscious about the smile and ask the dentist to do something about it.

“The newer procedures that we have in cosmetic dentistry allow us to create a new smile conservatively, without having to destroy good dentition,” says Dr. Feinman. “With direct bonding, we can change the position and shape of the tooth, and alter the length, texture and color without dramatic destruction of the existing tooth.”

A recent survey of a number of dentists has shown that 92 percent of general dentists reported their patients had an increased awareness of cosmetic dentistry procedures. The survey also revealed that 93 percent of dentists offer bleaching; 90 percent offer veneers; and 86 percent offer tooth-colored fillings. More than three-fourths of the surveyed dental offices stated that they had seen a marked increase in cosmetic dentistry procedures.

About 5 percent of dental offices are even offering patients a chance to see what the results will look like before the dental procedure is performed. A computer imaging system manipulates portions of a digital image of the patient’s face to simulate the results of the proposed cosmetic treatment. The patient can see the results of a chipped tooth that is repaired, a space between teeth that is closed, a malformed tooth that is reshaped, and discolored teeth that are lightened.

“However, these are just simulations. But with a dentist’s expertise and diagnosis, the patient is able to see what can be accomplished,” said Dr. Feinman. “It’s important to have realistic expectations.”