We all have things we would like to change about our bodies, and for many people this includes their smile. If your teeth are wonky, yellow, misshapen or missing altogether, there are various cosmetic dentistry treatments that can help restore your confidence.
You might be worried about the cost of seeing a cosmetic dentist, but this needn't be an obstacle. Whether you want to whiten your teeth, repair a cracked tooth or replace a missing one, there are various options to suit different budgets.
In this guide you can read all about the different types of cosmetic dental procedure on offer in the UK. Find out how much the different treatments cost and how to locate a good dentist near you.
At Dentaly.org, our aim is to help you make an informed decision about how you can get a smile you love.
Table of contents
- 1 What is cosmetic dentistry?
- 2 Types of cosmetic dental work
- 3 Cosmetic dentistry costs
- 4 Finding a good cosmetic dentist near you
- 5 Conclusion
What is cosmetic dentistry?
Cosmetic – or aesthetic – dentistry refers to any dental procedure carried out in order to improve the appearance of the teeth or smile. This kind of work is sometimes called a ‘smile makeover' or ‘Hollywood smile'.
It may include changes to:
- Tooth colour
- Position of teeth
- Shape and size of teeth
- Jaw alignment
- Gum line
- Overall appearance of the smile
Although the main focus is on aesthetics, many cosmetic procedures also serve to improve the functionality of the teeth and overall oral health, and in this regard there is some overlap with restorative dentistry. However, some non-reversible procedures cause lasting damage to tooth enamel. It's therefore important to discuss your chosen procedure with your dentist and understand exactly what it involves.
Cosmetic dentistry is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. The market is currently worth an estimated £2.2 billion and is estimated to grow another 8% by 2021.
Types of cosmetic dental work
Here are some of the most common aesthetic dental treatments carried out in the UK:
You might think that dazzling white smiles are just for celebrities, but teeth whitening is actually the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure in the UK. 48% of Brits say they are unhappy with their teeth, and of those, almost two thirds cite tooth colour as the main reason for their discontentment.
It's particularly popular among younger generations; almost half of 18-34s have had their teeth whitened at some point, and a third do it at least once a week.
When it comes to getting whiter teeth you have a number of options to choose from. You can spend hundreds of pounds getting high-tech laser whitening treatment at a dental clinic, or you can buy a home whitening kit for a fraction of the price.
Of course, different types of treatment deliver varying results, although they all involve applying some kind of bleach to your teeth. You can read up on all the options and how effective they are in our full guide to teeth whitening.
If you want to get straighter teeth you'll most likely need braces of some sort. These devices exert pressure on certain teeth to move them into the desired position. Children and teenagers are often treated on the NHS with metal braces, but there are many other types of brace available if you get private treatment.
Patients who don't want it to be so obvious that they are wearing braces could consider:
- “Invisible” braces: These clear plastic aligners sit over teeth like a mouth guard and are only noticeable very close up.
- Lingual braces: Similar in design to traditional metal braces, these are attached to the back of teeth, hidden inside the mouth.
- Clear or tooth-coloured ceramic braces: These work in the same way as metal braces but are designed to blend in with natural tooth colour.
Treatment with braces can take anywhere from six months to two years or more, depending on the degree of movement required.
Check out our complete guide to braces for adults and teens to find out more information about these and other types of brace. This details typical costs for each type, as well as some practical advice for life with braces.
Many adults get braces later in life because they are unhappy with the appearance of their teeth. However, straighter teeth are actually easier to clean properly so getting braces can improve your oral hygiene, too.
Porcelain veneers are thin, tooth-coloured covers which a dentist applies directly over existing teeth. They can be used to change the size and shape of teeth, cover surface flaws, close gaps between teeth, and change tooth colour.
You can get a veneer for a single problem tooth or for your entire set of front teeth, and each one is individually made for you.
A full set of veneers is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to get a complete smile makeover. However, a small amount of enamel has to be removed from each tooth in order to apply most types of veneer, and this makes the process non-reversible. When the original veneers fail (usually after 10-20 years), you'll need to replace them or get the teeth capped.
An alternative to porcelain veneers is composite veneers. The soft composite material is built up onto the tooth and then hardened in a process known as ‘bonding'. Composite is not as long-lasting and may not look as natural as porcelain, but it is more affordable.
In the time-lapse video below you can see what a dramatic change composite veneers can achieve:
Some companies also manufacture ‘snap-on veneers' which clip over the existing teeth to improve the appearance of the smile. These don't involve a visit to the dentist and are a cheap way to get an instant smile makeover, but they aren't always the best option. Read our review of one of the main brands, instasmile, for more information.
Veneers are a purely cosmetic treatment. If a tooth has been badly damaged from trauma or decay, a dental crown can be fitted to protect what is left of the tooth structure.
If you require just subtle adjustments to the size, shape and height of your teeth, cosmetic contouring can be a cost-effective way to improve your smile.
The procedure will vary depending on your requirements. Dentists can polish out small chips and rough edges and re-shape pointy teeth with minimal discomfort to you. They may also file down teeth that are taller than their neighbours.
Composite bonding can be used to build up small or short teeth, repair chipped teeth, and even to fill gaps between teeth. When performed by a skilled dental technician, the results look completely natural.
Since the process is unique for each individual, you'll need to have a consultation to obtain a quote. The techniques used are relatively straightforward and there is no expensive lab work involved, so this can be an affordable way to rejuvenate your smile.
Most people probably don't give much thought to the shape of their gums. However, if you are conscious of how yours look, there are ways to remedy the situation.
If your gums are uneven or cover too much of your teeth, giving you a ‘gummy' smile, your dentist can cut back the gum tissue using a laser or scalpel. This simple procedure can make a big difference to the appearance of your smile.
On the other hand, you may be suffering from receding gums. This can happen because of a medical condition such as gum disease, or as a side-effect of some medications.
If your gums recede too far your teeth may become loose and even fall out, and you'll be at increased risk of periodontal infection. In this case, a dentist or periodontist can graft gum tissue to restore your gums to a healthy condition.
Gum contouring and grafting is usually done under local anaesthetic.
If you have one or more teeth missing you are probably keen to replace them – especially if you have gaps in a very noticeable position.
Dental implants are strong, durable and designed to look like natural teeth. The implant is inserted into your jawbone then a tooth crown is attached with an abutment. They can last 10-15 years or more if you look after them well.
If you have several teeth in a row that need to be replaced then an implant-supported bridge may be an option. An implant at either end can support a bridge of three or four teeth, which works out cheaper than three or four individual implants.
To replace a full mouth of teeth, implant-supported dentures such as All-on-4 are the most affordable option.
Read our full guide on dental implant costs and options if you want to learn more about replacing your teeth this way. You'll find a lot more information on how implants work, how much they cost, and what you can expect from the procedure.
Other teeth replacements
Implants are the longest-lasting way to replace teeth and they also help maintain bone mass in the jaw. But they are also by far the most expensive.
Cosmetic dentistry costs
As an NHS patient
Of the treatments mentioned above, some may be covered by the NHS if they are deemed clinically necessary. These include:
- A bridge or denture to replace one or more missing teeth
- A crown to repair a broken or decayed tooth
- Braces (but only the metal variety)
- Teeth whitening if a particular tooth has darkened because the nerve has died
- Gum surgery where gums have receded too far
The NHS won't cover treatment that is being done for purely aesthetic reasons. Implants and veneers may be provided in rare circumstances if the patient can't receive a bridge, denture or crown for whatever reason.
Under-18s, pregnant mothers, those who have recently had a baby, and people receiving certain benefits can get free NHS dentistry. Otherwise, you'll have to pay for your NHS treatment. Prices are banded according to the type of treatment you have, with the highest charge at £269.30 for 2019/20.
Braces are commonly offered to children and teenagers, but as an adult you can only get NHS braces if your teeth are severely misaligned and likely to cause you oral health problems.
As a private patient
For treatments that are not covered by the NHS you'll need to be treated as a private patient. Costs for private dental treatment vary greatly around the country and from one dentist to another. However, the table below should give you a good idea of cosmetic dentistry prices for certain procedures:
|Treatment||Cost with NHS (if eligible)||Approximate Private Cost|
|In-clinic laser whitening||N/A||£500 - £1,500|
|At-home LED whitening kit||N/A||£22 - £65|
|Teeth Straightening with Braces|
|Metal braces||£256.50||£1,500 - £3,000|
|Invisalign||N/A||£1,800 - £5,500|
|Porcelain (single tooth)||N/A||£400 - £1,000|
|Composite (single tooth)||N/A||£100 - £400|
|Single dental implant with crown||N/A||£1,300 - £2,500|
|Dental bridge (one tooth)||£256.50||£250 - £800|
|Dentures (any number of teeth)||£256.50||£200 - £2,500|
When deciding whether your chosen procedure is worth the investment, you'll need to consider how long the results are likely to last. Also factor in any ongoing costs, such as night-time retainers for orthodontic work.
Ways to save on aesthetic dentistry
Do you have dental insurance? If yes, it's worth checking whether your policy covers any of the work you need.
You may even be able to take out a new policy which will reimburse some of your costs. However, insurance policies are designed to prevent you taking advantage of them, so check the small print carefully for:
- The percentage that the policy will reimburse for any particular treatment
- Maximum annual limits
- Waiting periods
- Pre-existing condition coverage
- Mandatory checkups before cover commences
You can also save money on teeth implants and other cosmetic dentistry costs by visiting a dental school or even getting treatment abroad. As for free aesthetic dental work? Well, your best bet is to become an influential vlogger or win a competition.
Most dentists offer finance packages so you can spread the cost of more expensive treatments. If you go down this route, try to find a 0% deal so you don't pay the price in interest. Alternatively, a dental loan could help you fund your treatment.
Finding a good cosmetic dentist near you
If the work you want done is covered by the NHS, you'll need visit your regular NHS dentist.
For private treatment, on the other hand, you can choose whichever dentist you like (provided they are qualified to carry out the procedure you want). Since there are thousands of UK dentists offering many of the services we described above, it can be hard to know which is the right one for you.
Below are some things you should consider when selecting a cosmetic dentist to perform your treatment:
The cost of your aesthetic dental treatment is, of course, a big factor to consider. There are many things that can determine the price you are quoted, including:
- The standard of equipment and materials used for your treatment
- How long it will take (especially the time spent in the dentist's chair)
- Your dentist's experience, qualifications and reputation
- The location of the practice
- The level of competition in the area
Business overheads in cities are often higher than in rural areas, for example, and this pushes prices up. However, cities often have more competition between dental clinics, so you may find special offers on certain treatments if you shop around.
Keep in mind that a higher price doesn't necessarily mean better quality treatment. But at the same time, you don't want a dentist who cuts corners just to offer the lowest prices.
Obtain a few quotes from different dentists in your area so you can get an idea of prices before you commit to anything. When you are paying for cosmetic dental work, it helps to take the mindset of a consumer rather than a patient. Be clear on what is included in each quote so you can compare like-for-like; also check how long the work is guaranteed for.
Experience and reputation
If you're trusting someone to change the way your face looks, you want to be sure they have some experience in the field. Online reviews and word-of-mouth are usually good indications of their competence.
At your initial consultation, ask the dentist for ‘before and after' photos of past patients who have had the same work you're considering. Would you be happy to get similar results? Or do they look fake to you?
Everyone has different personal preferences so it's important to discuss your expectations. Fortunately, many clinics use advanced computer technology to plan cosmetic treatments so you'll have a good idea of the end results before you even begin.
Some people are willing to travel to another city – or even another country – just to visit a dentist with a good reputation. Many of the UK's best cosmetic dentists are located in London and have world-famous clinics, but they also come with price tags to match their reputation.
If your treatment just requires one or two visits then a long journey may not be a big deal for you. But if you'll have to make regular visits, for example with orthodontic work, you may appreciate the convenience of a cosmetic dentist near you.
There is no mandatory accreditation for cosmetic dentists in the UK – anyone who has registered with the General Dental Council may offer most of the services named above. However, many dental professionals are members of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BADC). This organisation helps ensure they are kept educated and up-to-date on current techniques and practices.
BADC accreditation may give you extra peace of mind as a patient, but this doesn't mean there is necessarily anything wrong with dentists who are not members.
Additionally, dentists offering certain specialist services may be members of other organisations. These include the Association of Dental Implantology and the British Orthodontic Society. Again, membership is no guarantee of the standard of work but does show the dentist is committed to continuing their education.
If you are planning to get your teeth whitened, be aware of beauty therapists and other individuals practising illegally. Unless you whiten your teeth at home, the procedure must be carried out by a qualified dental professional.
Finally, you could look for a clinic that is ISO 9001 certified – particularly if you are seeking treatment abroad. This mark indicates an international standard of quality management.
There are many aesthetic dental procedures you can undergo to improve the appearance of your teeth – whether it's the colour, shape or position of them that's bothering you.
Although most purely cosmetic procedures are not covered by the NHS, there are still affordable options. Dental insurance, dental schools and overseas dentistry can help lower the costs. Your first step is to book a consultation with one or more dentists to discuss your choices and get an idea of prices.
We hope you find a solution that gives you a smile you feel confident to show off!