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Cosmetic Dentistry Vs. General Dentistry: How to Tell Which One You Need?

Cosmetic dentist examining patient's teeth

When it comes to your dental care, it’s important to understand the difference between cosmetic dentistry and general dentistry. Both branches of dentistry play vital roles in maintaining oral health and enhancing smiles. However, they have distinct focuses and purposes.

Read on to learn more about these areas of dentistry before booking your first visit.

What Is the Difference Between a Cosmetic Dentist and a Regular Dentist?

Cosmetic dentistry and general dentistry are two branches within the field of dental care. While they overlap in certain areas, their primary objectives differ.

Cosmetic Dentistry

Cosmetic dentistry is primarily focused on improving the appearance of your teeth, gums, and smiles. Cosmetic dentistry aims to create a beautiful smile by addressing tooth discoloration, misalignment, gaps, and irregularities.

What Is Considered Cosmetic Dentistry?

  • Teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is a popular cosmetic procedure that lightens and brightens the color of your teeth. It involves using bleaching agents to remove stains and discoloration caused by aging, food and drink consumption, and smoking.
  • Dental veneers. Dental veneers (or porcelain veneers) are thin, custom-made shells bonded to the teeth’ front surface. They can improve the appearance of teeth by correcting issues such as discoloration, chipping, misalignment, and gaps. Veneers are typically made from porcelain or composite resin.
  • Dental bonding. Dental bonding is a procedure where tooth-colored composite resin is bonded to the surface of the teeth and sculpted to correct imperfections. It can be used to repair chipped or cracked teeth, fill in gaps, reshape teeth, and cover stains or discoloration.
  • Dental implants. Dental implants are a permanent solution for replacing missing teeth. They consist of a titanium post surgically placed into the jawbone, acting as an artificial tooth root. A crown is then placed on top of the implant, restoring the appearance and function of the missing tooth.
  • Orthodontic treatment. Orthodontic treatment, such as braces or clear aligners, is used to correct misaligned teeth and bite issues. This not only improves the aesthetics of your smile but also helps with proper chewing and speaking.
  • Gum contouring. Gum contouring, also known as gum reshaping, is a procedure that aims to improve the appearance of the gumline. It involves removing excess gum tissue to create a more balanced and proportionate smile.
  • Dental crowns. Dental crowns, also called caps, are custom-made restorations covering a tooth’s entire visible portion. They can improve the appearance of damaged, discolored, or misshapen teeth, providing strength, protection, and aesthetic enhancement.
  • Enamel shaping. Enamel shaping, or enamel contouring, involves removing small amounts of enamel to reshape and smooth the teeth. This procedure is typically used to correct minor imperfections such as uneven edges or overlaps, resulting in a more uniform smile.

General Dentistry

On the other hand, general dentistry focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing oral health problems. General dentists’ primary concern is maintaining the overall health of your teeth, gums, and mouth.

What is Considered General Dentistry?

  • Dental cleanings. Regular dental cleanings, also known as prophylaxis, involve the removal of plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth. This helps prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health issues.
  • Dental examinations. General dentists perform comprehensive dental examinations to evaluate patients’ overall oral health. This includes examining your teeth, gums, tongue, and other oral tissues to identify any problems or potential areas of concern.
  • Fillings. If you have a cavity or tooth decay, general dentists can remove the decayed portion of the tooth and fill it with various materials such as composite resin, amalgam, or porcelain to restore the tooth’s structure and function.
  • Root canal therapy. When the inner pulp of a tooth becomes infected or inflamed, a general dentist may perform a root canal. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the root canal, and filling it with a biocompatible material to save the tooth from extraction.
  • Extractions. General dentists can extract a tooth when it is severely damaged, decayed, or impacted. They may also extract wisdom teeth if they are causing pain, crowding, or other complications.
  • Dentures. Some may ask, “Are dentures considered cosmetic?” While dentures improve the aesthetics of your smile, they are primarily used to replace missing teeth and restore bite function. In other words, this is a part of their comprehensive dental services.
  • Crowns and bridges. General dentists can place dental crowns (tooth-shaped caps) if you have damaged or weakened teeth to protect and strengthen them. If you have missing teeth, they can also create dental bridges, which are false teeth anchored by adjacent healthy teeth.
  • Treatment for gum disease. General dentists can diagnose and treat gum disease, including scaling and root planing (deep cleaning), antimicrobial therapy, and ongoing maintenance to manage and improve gum health.
  • Oral cancer screenings. General dentists perform routine oral cancer screenings to detect any signs or symptoms of oral cancer. Remember, early detection is crucial for successful treatment.
  • Dental X-rays. General dentists utilize dental X-rays to obtain detailed teeth, gums, and jawbone images. These images help diagnose various conditions, plan treatments, and monitor oral health.

What Do I Need to Consider in Choosing Dentistry?

Choosing between cosmetic and general dentistry depends on your specific needs and goals.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding:

Oral Health Concerns

A general dentist should be your first choice if you have oral health issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, or toothaches. They are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of dental problems.

Aesthetic Concerns

If your primary concern is improving the appearance of your smile, cosmetic dentistry can help. Cosmetic dentists specialize in dental procedures that enhance the aesthetics of your teeth and gums.

Comprehensive Care

General dentists provide comprehensive care for all aspects of oral health. They can address both functional and aesthetic concerns while considering your overall dental well-being.

Specific Procedures

If you require specific procedures like root canals, extractions, or dental implants, a general dentist can handle these treatments. However, a cosmetic dentist may be better for complex cosmetic treatments like full mouth reconstruction or smile makeovers.

Why Do You Need Cosmetic Dentistry?

Cosmetic dentistry offers various benefits beyond just improving your smile’s aesthetics.

Here are some reasons why you might consider cosmetic dentistry:

  • Enhanced self-confidence. A beautiful smile can boost your self-esteem and confidence. Cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening, veneers, or orthodontics can transform your smile, giving you the confidence to face the world.
  • Improved oral hygiene. Many cosmetic procedures, such as straightening misaligned teeth or closing gaps, can make it easier to clean your teeth effectively. This can lead to improved oral hygiene and a reduced risk of dental problems.
  • Long-term investment. Cosmetic treatments, when performed by skilled professionals, can provide long-lasting results. Investing in your smile not only enhances your appearance but also contributes to your overall oral health.
  • Functional benefits. Some cosmetic treatments, like dental implants or crowns, serve dual purposes by improving both aesthetics and functionality. They can restore damaged teeth, improve bite alignment, and enhance chewing ability.

What Training or Educational Accreditations Should I Expect From My Cosmetic Dentist?

When seeking cosmetic dental treatments, choosing a qualified professional with appropriate training and accreditations in cosmetic dentistry is essential.

Here are some credentials to look for:

  • American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) Accreditation. AACD accreditation is a prestigious designation demonstrating a dentist’s commitment to excellence in cosmetic dentistry. This accreditation requires dentists to undergo rigorous training, pass written and oral examinations, and submit clinical cases for evaluation. Less than 500 dentists worldwide hold this accreditation.
  • Completion of Dental School. A cosmetic dentist should have completed dental school and obtained a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program. Dental school provides the foundational knowledge and skills required to practice dentistry.
  • Post-graduate training and continuing education. Many cosmetic dental professionals pursue additional training and continuing education in cosmetic dentistry. This may involve attending specialized courses, workshops, and conferences to stay updated with the latest techniques and advancements in the field.
  • Certification in relevant procedures. Cosmetic dentists may seek certifications in specific procedures such as teeth whitening, dental veneers, or dental implants. These certifications indicate that the dentist has received specialized training and has demonstrated proficiency in performing these treatments.

Cosmetic Dentist Vs. Orthodontist

It’s important to note that a cosmetic dentist and a cosmetic orthodontist are not the same. While both professionals focus on enhancing the appearance of a patient’s smile, their areas of expertise and the treatments they provide differ.

As mentioned, cosmetic dentist specializes in a wide range of aesthetic dental procedures that improve the overall appearance of the teeth and smile.

For example, many patients ask, “Who does veneers, dentist or orthodontist?”

Veneers are typically performed by cosmetic dentists rather than orthodontists. While orthodontists specialize in correcting teeth misalignments and jaw abnormalities using techniques like braces or aligners, cosmetic dentists are trained to provide a range of dental treatments, including veneers.

Simply put, cosmetic orthodontists are specialized orthodontists who focus on correcting teeth misalignment and bite issues to improve the smile’s function and aesthetics. They primarily use orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners (e.g., Invisalign) to straighten teeth, close gaps, correct overcrowding, and align the bite. The goal of a cosmetic orthodontist is to achieve a harmonious and balanced smile by ensuring proper tooth alignment and jaw positioning.

The Bottom Line: Choosing the Right Dentist Depends on Your Dental Needs and Goals

Choosing cosmetic dentistry vs. general dentistry depends on your specific needs and goals. General dentistry focuses on maintaining overall oral health, while cosmetic dentistry enhances the aesthetics of your smile. However, note that these two branches often intersect, providing comprehensive care that addresses functional and aesthetic concerns. This means that you may need both types of dentists at different stages of your dental treatment.

Ultimately, choose a dental clinic that uses state-of-the-art dental technology and friendly staff.

About Dr. Christine Lee

Dr. Lee specializes in cosmetic rehabilitations and complex full-mouth reconstructions. She is skilled in all facets of restorative dentistry such as crowns, porcelain veneers, bridges, and complete or partial dentures.

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