A guide to cosmetic dentistry

We're not all blessed with a dazzling smile and perfectly straight gnashers but thanks to the increasing popularity of cosmetic dentistry here in the UK, achieving a Hollywood smile is no longer just a dream. Whether you are just looking to remove stains from your pearly whites or are self-conscious about crooked teeth, there are plenty of options available.

Close-up of young woman smiling
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Of course, it's not just for those who want to improve their personal presentation - for some, cosmetic dentistry can fix jaw misalignment or replace missing teeth, working wonders for an individual's self-esteem.

The most common procedure is teeth whitening. If years of smoking, red wine and coffee have taken their toll, whitening should be performed by a dentist.

As a professional, your dentist will apply a whitening product to the teeth, usually a bleaching gel. Since these products contain a peroxide bleaching agent, the gums must be protected. Those with stubborn stains may require more than one visit and, costing anywhere between £300 and £700, it can be pricey.

Laser teeth whitening
is another popular method. Though laser treatment can cost up to £1,300, it is often a quicker procedure.

On the other hand, many dentists are able to supply a professionally dispensed take-home whitening kit. Using a lower concentration of peroxide, these often need to be left on far longer than a dentist's own gel (often overnight), but they are usually supplied with custom-made bleaching trays to ensure that you will still get an excellent result. And with fees ranging from £200 to £400 it can be a cheaper option.

Over-the-counter teeth whitening treatments are not recommended, however. Dentists recently warned that many young women are risking their health by using DIY kits containing baking soda, ash and hydrogen peroxide, which can cause permanent damage to both tooth enamel and gums.

And those 'whitening' toothpastes we're all so keen on can also cause enamel damage by using abrasive elements, so if you are concerned about tooth staining, it is always best to visit your dentist to discuss your options.

But what if the problem can't be solved by whitening kits?

Dental veneers
, thin tooth-coloured material that is bonded to the teeth, are excellent for those with heavy staining and can also cover chipped or broken teeth and, in some cases, get rid of noticeable gaps.

If you're teeth are very crooked, a cosmetic orthodontist can help. Braces, worn for 22 hours a day over a six to 18-month period, can slowly realign the teeth to present a straighter smile. It is expensive (prices start from £3,000) but you won't need to look like Ugly Betty - invisible braces are available.

For those who are conscious of showing too much gum, a cosmetic dentist can use surgery or lasers to re-contour and reshape the gums, resulting in a more equal balance between tooth and gum.

But if your smile appears beyond repair, it may be time to consider a permanent replacement. Old-fashioned false teeth are not the only option these days as dental implants are becoming increasingly popular.

A cosmetic dentist inserts a titanium root into the gum. As the bone tissue within the gum attaches to the synthetic root, it anchors the implant and it is then possible to 'build' a tooth onto the titanium. However, the process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months so it can be a lengthy procedure.

Cosmetic dentistry may seem unnecessary to many, but if you are self-conscious about your smile it can have a dramatic effect on your self-esteem and a trip to the dentist can be well worth it.