A lot of us are often unhappy with the appearance of the teeth that nature has blessed us with. To fix mal-aligned teeth, we turn to orthodontic and prosthetic treatments.
Sometimes, the tooth may only be slightly out of place and investing in braces for it may seem like too much of your time and money. At such times, the dentist can directly work on that particular tooth to re-shape it and use an aesthetic resin on it if required.
Contouring is a newer method to re-shape a particular tooth or teeth by trimming and polishing it. In bonding, the dentist uses a special resin which blends with the tooth to make it look better, or re-gain a chipped edge. (1)
What is contouring?
Dental contouring is a cosmetic procedure which takes care of minor irregularities of a tooth.
What are these minor irregularities that you can correct? A slightly longer tooth crown, mild overlapping or an excessively pointed canine- these are some of the defects that contouring can correct.
Contouring is a non-invasive procedure. The dentist only alters your enamel, and the underlying tissues of the tooth are left untouched. Therefore, it does not require local anaesthesia.
Preparing for the procedure
Once your dentist decides that contouring is an appropriate procedure for you, they will take a radiograph of the affected tooth to see the closeness of the enamel to the pulp and dentin.
This is just a confirmation to make sure that the pulp remains untouched in this procedure.
Re-shaping is a procedure that is fast and effective. It takes about thirty minutes to an hour, and you will have your results immediately. You can get contouring done by itself, or with bonding.
The dentist uses a laser or the dental drill which is the instrument used for treating cavities. Depending on the objective of contouring, the dentist will remove enamel from that particular surface of the tooth and smoothen it.
After the reshaping is complete, the dentist will make your tooth smooth and polish it. This ensures that no sharp edges or unsupported enamel are left behind. The process of contouring will cost you an average of $60 to $250.
Unlike contouring, dental bonding is a technique by which your dentist can add an artificial material that bonds to the tooth.
Dental bonding repairs chipped tooth edges or surfaces by adding a tooth coloured resin. The resin micromechanically attaches to the tooth and looks very similar to it. Bonding is also helpful to fill in small gaps between teeth.
Just like contouring, the dentist needs a radiograph to make sure that the chipped tooth has lost enamel only. Clinical examination is another tool to check the condition of the pulp.
The concerned tooth is isolated from the rest of the mouth. This is because saliva can contaminate and hinder the bonding process.
Once the dentist gets sufficient isolation, he or she will first etch the tooth with an etching agent. Phosphoric acid is the most commonly used etching agent and comes in different packings.
Most commonly it is supplied as a syringe. The manufacturer provides instructions for using the etchant. The purpose of the etchant is to ensure adhesion of the resin to the tooth.
After etching, the doctor washes the tooth for about twenty seconds, to wash away excess etchant. Next, a bonding agent or a conditioning liquid is used.
This also helps the resin in micromechanical bonding. Before using the resin, the clinician will completely dry the area. Any moisture or water interferes with the desired adhesion.
There are different bonding agents available with different dispensing methods. The bonding agents are grouped according to ‘generations’, and each generation is more advanced than the previous. (2)
The resin adapts to the tooth surface and can be contoured as the dentist desires. (3) Once he has set it in place, in the desired shape and thickness, the dentist uses a special curing light on it for about thirty seconds.
This light is what ensures that the resin sets completely. Therefore, this is a critical step. Sometimes the dentist may use a self-cure resin, which does not need light to fix.
Once the resin sets completely, the dentist can use fine dental instruments to give it finishing touches. Special burs and the drill help in final polishing.
Depending on how many teeth you are seeking treatment for, it could take up to a few hours. If it is just one tooth, you are likely to be done in half an hour.
Aftercare for your teeth
Contouring and bonding are very easy procedures, both on the pocket and in terms of complexity. But that does not mean you need to get it done time and again. Caring for the bonded tooth will preserve the resin restoration for a longer time, and keep your tooth looking beautiful.
Bonding works well for front teeth, those which show when you smile. Always remember front teeth are not for biting anything hard, so don’t use them to chew on hard, sticky foods. This will cause the resin to break off.
Keep the restored teeth clean. You will notice that tea, coffee or wine stains the tooth. Keep a control on these beverages. If you feel any pain or sensitivity in the bonded teeth, visit your dentist for a radiograph or check-up. (4)
If you have the terrible habit of biting on objects, or even your fingernails, note that doing this will weaken the bonding and even dislodge it. Not only is it unhygienic for your mouth, but it also adversely affects a bonded tooth.
Maintain oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing regularly. Allowing food debris to settle between bonded teeth will discolour the bonded resin.
Other methods to improve the appearance of your teeth
Bonding and contouring are only useful for minor corrections. But if all your teeth are mal-aligned, or there is an extensive loss of tooth structure, you will need a more complex treatment.
Orthodontic treatment through fixed or removable appliances straightens your teeth in the arch. Depending on the amount of correction required, the orthodontist will advise extraction if space is less.
Dental crowns and veneers are solutions to cover chipped or stained teeth. Laminates are effective too.
If the tooth is grossly decayed, or more than half of the tooth is chipped, you can extract the tooth and replace it with an implant. A bridge is an alternative to implant, but it needs tooth preparation on the adjacent teeth.
Contouring and bonding are quick fixes to get your beautiful smile back. But be sure you care for your teeth as you do after getting a major dental procedure. This will make sure the bonding lasts a long time.