Thinking about upgrading your grin? Whether you're looking to perk up your tooth color or straighten without braces, there are more options now than ever before.
Problem: Stains, dullness
It's one of the easiest ways to improve your overall appearance, so it's no surprise that tooth-whitening procedures have increased by over 300 percent in the last five years.
The fastest way to brighten teeth is with power whitening. A dentist first applies a "bleaching" solution to your teeth, and then shines a high-intensity light on them for about an hour, enabling the solution to reach inside the enamel layer. One downside: increased tooth sensitivity. But fluoride products can help strengthen teeth, reducing sensitivity.
Cost: $500-$2,000 for uppers and lowers
There are also custom-fit mouth trays with whitening solution administered by dentists. Worn each night for a few weeks, they can lift color five shades.
Cost: $500-$1,000 for uppers and lowers
On a budget? Over-the-counter mouth-tray kits work well, too, although the maximum they can lighten teeth is three to four shades. Whitening toothpastes are also a good choice for reducing stains. Results are about the same as a dental-office cleaning, although an electric toothbrush can boost pastes' lightening power from one shade to two.
Problem: Gaps, chips and/or crooked teeth
By offering a sneak peak of a new-and-improved smile, high-tech digital imaging has helped boost the popularity of veneers. These thin layers of hard, translucent porcelain are individually crafted to each tooth. They offer dramatic results from hiding surface ridges and closing gaps to creating a perfectly linear tooth line. Veneers also can correct more severe problems like misaligned teeth. Done well and cared for (avoid chomping on hard candy and brush/floss regularly), veneers can last a lifetime.
Cost: $1,000-$2,500 per tooth (four to eight teeth is the average)
Problem: Crowded, crooked or gapped teeth and/or an over- or underbite
New heat-activated nickel-titanium-alloy wires move teeth more gently and efficiently than do the stainless-steel ones. Brackets, which attach directly to the teeth and hold the wire, also are smaller and come in tooth-colored ceramic material. This alternative, however, will cost you $300-$600 more than the steel variety and could prolong treatment up to three months.
If your teeth are only mildly crooked, crowded or gapped, Invisalign, clear plastic "mouthguards," may be another option. This series of 18-30 aligners are customized to fit over the teeth. As teeth move and straighten, you replace the aligner with the next in your series (typically every two weeks). These aligners are worn all the time, except when eating, drinking, brushing and flossing (average treatment time is nine to 15 months) and no one will ever know they're there. Cost: $3,500-$6,000 (comparable to traditional braces)
Problem: Silver-alloy fillings
Made of bonding resin, composites (tooth-colored fillings) last about seven to 10 years, comparable to the lifespan of silver fillings. Some people -- concerned that leaking mercury from metal fillings might cause health problems -- replace their silver fillings with composites. But there's been no direct evidence showing that metal amalgam is unsafe.
Cost: $150-$450 per tooth
Problem: A gummy grin
Procedure: Gum lift
If looking at your smiling reflection has you seeing red, you may qualify for a gum lift, a procedure that can even out the peaks and valleys of an asymmetrical gum line or scale back excess tissue that makes teeth appear short. Removing just 1-2 millimeters of gum can make a huge difference in your smile. Gum tissue is cut away or lifted under local anesthesia; the slight swelling that results subsides in about a day. Note: Only allow a periodontist (gum specialist) to perform the surgery.
Cost: $150-$250 per tooth (six to 10 teeth is average)