Think you can't afford cosmetic dentistry to fix a chipped tooth or even up your smile? Think again. With teeth filing and contouring you can improve the appearance of your teeth without spending a fortune.
Teeth reshaping involves removing a small amount of tooth enamel to fix minor aesthetic issues. It's a quick, pain-free and cheap alternative to veneers which doesn't cause lasting damage to teeth.
So if you have chipped, fractured or uneven teeth that are making you self-conscious when you smile, keep reading to find out whether tooth contouring could work for you. We have information on what the process involves, what the risks are, and how much you can expect to pay for it in the UK.
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What is enameloplasty?
Enameloplasty is the official name for filing, shaving, contouring, sanding or reshaping of the teeth. This is normally done to make the smile more uniform and improve aesthetics. Although it goes by many names, the teeth filing procedure is relatively straightforward.
A dentist uses a sanding tool or laser to remove very small amounts of enamel from the tooth. Thin strips, a bit like sandpaper, can be used to reshape the sides of teeth.
Once the treated teeth have reached the desired shape, the dentist will smooth and polish them so they look and feel good as new. The whole process usually only takes about half an hour.
Getting teeth filed down shouldn't hurt, since you have no nerves in your enamel. It's therefore not necessary to use any kind of anaesthetic for the procedure. However, if you're nervous about experiencing pain you may ask for an anaesthetic anyway.
After teeth filing you will have a thinner layer of enamel, so it's important to take especially good care of your teeth. Your dentist will advise you on the best type of toothbrush and toothpaste to use to protect your tooth enamel.
Why get your teeth filed?
Recontouring of teeth is usually a cosmetic procedure but it may have some practical benefits too. Some of the reasons for filing down teeth include:
- Removing small chips and rough edges
- Smoothing out fractures
- Improving tooth alignment and bite
- Reducing slight overlap
- Creating a more even smile
- Reducing the height of long teeth
- Reshaping pointy teeth (especially canines)
Tooth filing may also happen as part of orthodontic treatment if some extra space is needed to correct overcrowding of teeth. In the video below, you can see how a dentist files between the two front teeth so they can move a little further in. He also carries out some cosmetic contouring on other teeth with rough edges.
If you get Invisalign braces you may well have to get some of your teeth filed. This creates a small amount of space between the teeth so that they can move into position. Since this treatment is all planned with the help of a computer program, the dentist can see exactly which parts of the tooth need slenderising.
Are there any risks?
Your tooth enamel is a hard coating which protects your teeth and gives them their biting strength. As it erodes, it offers less protection and exposes the layer of yellow dentin underneath. Enamel loss can lead to:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Increased risk of tooth decay
- Yellowing teeth
- Greater chance of chips or breakage
Removing a thin layer of the enamel on certain parts of a tooth shouldn't cause any lasting damage. But since tooth enamel is only 2.58mm thick on average, there is not much room for error.
If too much enamel is filed off, it can weaken the tooth and exacerbate the problems listed above. That's why it's important to find a dentist who is experienced in carrying out enamel reshaping.
If your teeth are already badly worn, you may not be a suitable candidate for enameloplasty. In fact, you should be considering tooth reconstruction procedures that will protect what is left of your teeth before the nerve becomes exposed.
Finally, it should go without saying that this is not something you can do at home! It might sound quite straightforward but if you try to file or shape your own teeth you risk causing greater damage to them.
You also don't have access to the special polishing tools dentists use to smooth any rough surfaces. If not polished properly, these surfaces are harder to clean and so are more likely to experience plaque build-up and decay.
Dental veneers and bonding are the main alternatives to filing teeth. These both add to the tooth, rather than taking away from it, so the dentist can offer more options in terms of shape, size and colour.
If your teeth are yellow or stained then you may want to do a course of tooth whitening in conjunction with your re-shaping. Do be aware, though, that the removal of enamel increases the chances of tooth sensitivity since the tooth pulp is less protected. Again, veneers and dental bonding are both options if you want to alter your tooth colour and shape at the same time.
Enamel contouring is not a suitable treatment for more severe dental problems. In the table below you can view appropriate treatments for different types of dental problem:
|Dental problem||Appropriate treatment|
|Minor aesthetic problems such as small chips, fractures and uneven tooth height||Teeth re-shaping|
|Large chip||Bonding or veneer|
|Broken or cracked tooth||Crown, inlay, onlay, veneer or extraction|
|Tooth decay||Filling, root canal or extraction|
|Misaligned teeth||Orthodontic treatment with braces|
|Tooth discolouration||Teeth whitening or veneers|
How much does teeth filing cost?
Enamel shaping costs a lot less than porcelain veneers – and even bonding – since you don't have to pay for any materials or lab work. What you are paying for is your dentist's time, expertise, and specialist tools.
You'll need to ask your dentist for a personalised quote since each clinic has different rates for the procedure. Naturally, it will also depend on how much work you need to have done and on how many teeth.
To give you a rough idea though, dentists in the UK typically charge £30 to £100 per tooth for cosmetic contouring. There may be a discount if you have several teeth treated at once.
When you compare this with the cost of £400 – £1,000 for a single porcelain veneer, you can see it is a much cheaper way to cosmetically improve your smile. Another benefit is that teeth shaving is permanent, whereas veneers must be replaced every 5-10 years.
If you need to have your teeth filed as part of orthodontic treatment, this procedure should be included in the overall cost you are quoted.
Is dental contouring right for you?
If your teeth have minor cosmetic imperfections that you're conscious of, filing may well be a quick and effective way to even out your smile. Even if porcelain veneers are your ultimate goal, you could opt for tooth reshaping as a short-term measure while you save for the more expensive treatment.
Although the results of tooth filing aren't drastic, even a few subtle changes can make you feel much more comfortable with showing off your teeth. Make an appointment to speak to your dentist about your options, or just mention it at your next checkup.