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 that 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.
Table of contents
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.
A complete teeth reshaping procedure may involve adding to the structure with composite bonding in some parts while filing teeth in other parts. When combined, these two procedures can produce the ideal shape for your smile.
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?
Teeth recontouring is usually a cosmetic procedure but it may have some practical benefits too. If your teeth feel rough then this can create a surface that encourages plaque bacteria to breed, so filing those surfaces to smooth them may help you keep them clean.
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
- Balancing uneven teeth
- 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 procedure, known as interproximal reduction (IPR), 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:
Minor aesthetic problems such as small chips, fractures and uneven tooth height
Bonding or veneer
Broken or cracked tooth
Crown, inlay, onlay, veneer or extraction
Filling, root canal or extraction
Orthodontic treatment with braces
Teeth whitening or veneers
How much does teeth filing cost in the UK?
Tooth contouring costs between £30 and £100 per tooth with a dentist in the UK. This is considerably 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. 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.
Conclusion: 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. You can ask to see some teeth filing before and after photos from their past patients to get an idea of the results that dental contouring can achieve.
What should I do if my teeth feel rough?
A good dental cleaning can help teeth feel much smoother, but if there are small imperfections on the surface of your teeth then dental contouring can be a good solution. We'd suggest visiting a dentist first to see what's causing the problem.
Does filing teeth hurt?
No, because teeth filing only removes a small amount of enamel, it shouldn't cause any pain. There is a risk of increased sensitivity after the procedure, though. There is no way to re-grow the enamel once it's removed.
Can teeth contouring fix uneven teeth?
Filing down teeth can improve aesthetics without the need for braces. However, it's only suitable in certain cases and the results won't be as drastic as with orthodontic work.
Can you file your own teeth?
You may want to save money by filing your teeth at home, and there are plenty of tutorials out there giving advice on how to do it. However, it's really not a good idea to try this. You risk causing significant damage if you bypass a dental professional.
For example, you could end up filing off too much enamel, causing permanent damage. Or you might chip your tooth and leave it looking even worse.
National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19937744?_ga=2.104470400.1235344357.1511846390-1064321743.1493863827 Consulted 17th March 2019.
Oral Health Group https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/interproximal-reduction-ipr-for-dummies/ Consulted 17th March 2019.
Everyday Health: Trusted Medical Information https://www.everydayhealth.com/dental-health/cosmetic-dentistry/tooth-reshaping.aspx Consulted 17th March 2019.