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Healthy Living Special Report

Your Cosmetic Dentisty Options

According to the American Dental Association, teeth were “designed” to last about 30 years. Decay and discoloration of teeth are the most obvious problems, but older adults face a variety of other age-related changes that can create a less youthful-looking smile. If you’re considering a dental makeover, here’s a rundown of available procedures and their costs.

In addition to yellowing teeth, the incisors -- the longest teeth in the front of the mouth -- wear down over time, exposing less enamel below your upper lip when you speak or smile. Teeth also drift towards the center of the mouth as bone and tissues holding them in place weaken with age. This can make your mouth look crowded, with teeth less evenly distributed throughout the mouth.

Consequently, many older adults turn to cosmetic dentistry, even though this can add up to hefty dental bills. Medicare and most private insurance will not pay for cosmetic dental procedures. Here are your options:

  • Teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is a popular procedure. Professional bleaching by your dentist costs about $500. A hydrogen peroxide solution is applied to the teeth and activated with an ultraviolet light. In-office bleaching takes about 45 minutes per session, but it may take several sessions to get to the shade you want. Alternatively, laser whitening costs over $1,000. Some less expensive options are at-home bleaching kits ($50-100) or whitening strips (as little as $25) from your local pharmacy or grocery store. Neither is as effective as professional whitening, though, and no whitening procedure is permanent; your teeth will discolor again over time.
  • Veneers. These custom-made plastic or porcelain moldings cover your decayed teeth and are likely to last for the rest of your life. Veneers cost $850 (plastic) to $2,500 (porcelain) per tooth. Synthetic composite veneers cost significantly less (starting at around $250 per tooth) but only last five to seven years.
  • Bonding. Bonding with a tooth-colored material is probably the quickest and most inexpensive ($300–600) way to fill in cracks or chips in teeth. The bonding material is first matched to the shade of your teeth and then applied, smoothed, and hardened with the help of an ultraviolet light or laser.
  • Crowns. Made of porcelain or metal, crowns cost $1,000–3,000. They’re commonly attached after a root canal to protect what’s left of the original tooth. Crowns can also stabilize a tooth if cracking or a previous filling undermines its structure Getting a crown takes two or more dental visits: one to make a mold of the tooth and another to cement it.
  • Dental implants. Implants are the most expensive and involved cosmetic procedure to repair damaged or missing teeth. A maxillofacial surgeon implants a metal post into the jaw where the new tooth will be placed. A crown is cemented on top of the post. While a basic implant typically costs $1, 250– 3,000, additional dental work may be required to strengthen the jawbone.
  • Gum surgery. Surgery can remove gum tissue scarred and ravaged by periodontal disease (gingivectomy). After gingivectomy, the periodontal surgeon typically reshapes the gums using tissue taken from the palate (gingivoplasty).
  • Braces. New invisible ceramic braces are available for around $5,000–6,000. If you have veneers, you’ll need old-fashioned metal braces, because ceramic won’t attach to veneers. Another option is invisible “braces” (like Invisalign), which consist of a series of specially molded mouthpieces that straighten your teeth. They are available for $3,500–5,000 and can be worn with veneers.
  • Bridges. Permanent bridges (which are sometimes called fixed partial dentures) include one or more false teeth implanted between two porcelain crowns. A permanent bridge typically costs $500–900 per tooth.
  • Dentures. Removable dentures are typically made of acrylic resin, metal, or porcelain and can be partial or complete -- depending on how many teeth you are missing. Removable dentures cost from about $500 for a partial set to $2,500 for a full set.

Posted in Healthy Living on October 7, 2009

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