We all have things we would like to change about our bodies, and for many people this includes their smile. If your teeth are crooked, 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 doesn't have to 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 procedures offered in the US, 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
What is cosmetic dentistry?
Cosmetic – or aesthetic – dentistry refers to any dental procedure done in order to improve the appearance of the teeth or smile. This kind of work is sometimes called a ‘smile makeover‘ or ‘Hollywood smile‘.
There is a lot of demand for cosmetic dental procedures, as only 9% of people worldwide are completely happy with their teeth, with no desire for cosmetic changes.
It may include changes to:
- Tooth color
- 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. However, some irreversible procedures cause lasting damage to tooth enamel. Therefore, it's important to discuss your chosen procedure with your dentist and understand exactly what it involves.
If you're planning on a major overhaul in your dental appearance, you might want to consider a smile design consultation. The digital smile design process involves working with your dentist to carefully plan multiple procedures to improve your aesthetics.
Types of cosmetic dental work
Here are some of the most common aesthetic dental treatments carried out in the US:
You might think that dazzling white smiles are just for celebrities, but teeth whitening is actually the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure in the US. In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 58% of respondents indicated that they have had their teeth whitened professionally.
When it comes to getting whiter teeth you have a number of options to choose from. You can spend hundreds of dollars getting professional teeth whitening at a dental clinic, or you can buy a teeth whitening kit like this one by Snow, for a fraction of the price. At-home kits can consist of teeth whitening strips, gels, and even LED technology. One of the most popular brands when it comes to whitening strips is Crest whitening strips.
Whitening kits are great if you don’t have the budget or the time for professional whitening at the dentist. But how do you know which ones are safe and effective? Here’s why Snow’s professional teeth whitening kit stands out:
- Nearly 1 million happy customers
- Lasting results from just 9 minutes a day
- Proprietary application system to protect your gums
- Made in the USA
- Satisfaction guaranteed – or your money back!
Read more in our Snow teeth whitening review.
Of course, different types of treatment deliver varying results even though they all involve applying some kind of bleach to your teeth, usually containing hydrogen peroxide.
You may also want to have a look at our ARC teeth whitening reviews, our Mobile White reviews, Zoom, or our Smileactives reviews to see what kind of options are out there. You can read up on all the options and how effective they are in our full guide to teeth whitening.
You may also want to have a look at some common teeth whitening myths, or read our guides about what can stian your teeth, including finding out ‘does turmeric stain teeth?‘ And what about tea — does green tea stain teeth?
If you want to get straighter teeth, you'll need braces of some sort. These devices put pressure on certain teeth to move them into the desired position. Children and teenagers are often treated with metal braces, but there are many other types of brace available if you are willing to pay for it.
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 mouthguard 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-colored ceramic braces: These work in the same way as metal braces but are designed to blend in with natural tooth color.
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 braces. The guide 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-colored covers that 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 color.
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 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 irreversible. When the original veneers fail – usually after 10-20 years – you'll need to replace them or get the teeth capped. Porcelain veneers cost more than composite veneers.
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 ‘tooth bonding‘. Composite is not as long-lasting and may not look as natural as porcelain, but it is more affordable. Avoid snap-on veneers, sometimes labeled as ‘fake veneers‘, that, while cheap, do more harm than good.
In the time-lapse video below you can see what a dramatic change composite veneers can achieve:
If you can't afford traditional veneers, you could consider snap-on veneers, like those made by instasmile. These veneers are not permanent and can be taken in and out whenever you want. They are much cheaper than regular veneers and there are no dentist visits involved. You take molds of your teeth at home, send the impressions back to the company. They then make your snap-on veneers and send them back to you. You can read more about this type of veneer in our article about instasmile here.
If you do choose this teledentistry route, however, keep in mind that there are always risks when dentists aren't involved. Also, these are no replacement for missing teeth, for that you need dentures or, even better, implants.
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 reshape pointy teeth with minimal discomfort to you. They may also file down teeth that are taller than their neighbors.
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 are usually done under local anesthetic.
Inlays and onlays
Similar to fillings, inlays and onlays are often used when there is not enough tooth surface or stability to support fillings.
For people with cavities and in need of fillings, inlays and onlays provide an alternative. Unlike fillings, they are made in a dental laboratory and cemented to the tooth.
For a decayed tooth, inlays and onlays won't weaken the remaining tooth so it might be a better solution. They're also a good alternative to crowns where the remaining tooth is not strong enough.
Inlays are made of both resin and porcelain. Treatment with inlays usually requires two visits to the dentist. Onlays, on the other hand, are used to treat teeth with damaged tips or cusps, but the process is almost the same.
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
Costs for private dental treatment can 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:
Approximate private cost
In-clinic laser whitening
$400 - $1,800
At-home LED whitening kit
$15 - $400
Teeth Straightening with Braces
$2,500 - $7,000
Porcelain (single tooth)
$500 - $2,500
Composite (single tooth)
$250 - $1,200
Single dental implant with crown
$1,500 - $6,000
Dental bridge (one tooth)
$500 - $1,500
Dentures (any number of teeth)
$300 - $30,000 depending on system and type
Fortunately, there are various ways you may be able to save money on cosmetic dentistry or make payments more affordable.
It's possible that your health insurance will cover some of these treatments. There are different types of dental coverage plans available, and the plan you choose will affect your premium, deductible, and level of coverage.
It's uncommon for dental insurance to reimburse large sums for cosmetic dentistry, and some treatments may be excluded altogether. 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 begins
Dental indemnity insurance plans are likely the closest you will get to full coverage. This type of insurance reimburses you for a percentage of your dental care costs.
Another option, although it's not technically insurance, is dental discount plans. Discounts range from 10-50% depending on the treatment. There is an annual fee and it includes some basic procedures such as checkups and cleanings.
For more information about insurance and discount plans, visit our complete guide to dental insurance in the US.
If your health insurance does not cover your dental procedure, or if you still have high out-of-pocket costs, there are financing options available. A dental loan or credit card allows you to pay in installments, making your treatment more affordable. Read more about cosmetic dentistry loans.
Alternatively, most dentists offer dental payment plans directly to their patients – ask your dentist about your options, and find out more in our payment plan guide here.
Other ways to save on aesthetic dentistry
You can also save money on teeth implants and other cosmetic dentistry costs by visiting a dental school or even getting dental 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.
Read more about your dental financing options, including grants for cosmetic dentistry. 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.
Finding a good cosmetic dentist near you
You'll want to find a dentist you feel comfortable with and that is actually qualified to perform the procedure you want or need. Since there are thousands of US 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. 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 US's best cosmetic dentists are located in California 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 US although the licensing requirements vary from state to state. However, many dental professionals are members of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AADC). This organization helps ensure they are kept educated and up-to-date on current techniques and practices.
AADC 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 organizations. Again, membership is no guarantee of the standard of work but does show the dentist is committed to continuing their education.
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.
Caring for your smile
Of course, the best way to save money on cosmetic dentistry procedures is by taking good care of your teeth. It's true that we aren't all born with a Hollywood smile, so it's totally understandable if you want to get some cosmetic procedures done. But help make sure that you always have a healthy mouth, gums and teeth by practicing proper oral hygiene like brushing, and flossing. It's also important to visit the dentist at least once a year for a checkup. All of this will make it so you're less likely to need cosmetic work in the future.
Stained teeth not only affect the way you look, they can also affect how you feel about yourself. Over 75% of people wish they had a brighter, whiter, or straighter smile. For the average person, the best way to keep your teeth white is to watch what you eat. In particular, avoid these foods and drinks:
- Tomato sauce
- Red Wine
Acidic foods (like tomatoes) and sugary foods (like soda) weaken the hard outer enamel of your teeth. This not only leads to tooth decay but also makes it easier for stains to take root. Microscopic pits in your teeth caused by demineralization or decay are like magnets for stains. These tiny imperfections can’t be cleaned by brushing and flossing alone.
If you do enjoy these foods, don’t beat yourself up! Make them sometimes foods, not everyday indulgences. You can minimize the risk of stains by swishing with water afterwards. But don’t brush right away! Wait a little bit for the saliva in your mouth to do its work. Otherwise you’ll just be scrubbing acid and pigments into the surface of your teeth, making the stains even worse!
Dr. Caitlin Batchelor, Batchelor Dentistry
There are many aesthetic dental procedures you can undergo to improve the appearance of your teeth – whether it's the color, shape or position of them that's bothering you.
Although most purely cosmetic procedures are expensive, there are still affordable options. Your first step is to book a consultation with one or more dentists to discuss your choices and get an idea of costs.
We hope you find a solution that gives you a smile you feel confident to show off!
Sunstar: Global Healthy Thinking Report. Consulted 11th September 2021.