When you’re self-conscious about your smile, you’re not putting your best foot forward. People concerned about the way their teeth look often hide their smiles or compensate by not giving a full laugh. If you’ve been grimacing instead of grinning when you see yourself in photos, there’s no better time to get a smile makeover!

With the help of your dentist, you can get whiter, brighter, straighter teeth that you’ll be proud to show off. A smile makeover is easier than you think and costs less than you ever imagined.

What is a smile makeover?

Many patients come to the dentist when they’re in pain or have an emergency. Obviously, you should visit your dentist for regular checkups, cleanings and unusual sensations. But your dentist will also be glad to help you achieve a killer smile with cosmetic procedures, too. The difference can be life-changing! You’ll have newfound confidence at work and in personal relationships, in large part because you’ll no longer be hiding yellow, discolored or even crooked teeth.

Smile makeovers address the way you look, in addition to your dental health. They can include tooth whitening, veneers, alignment, implants, dentures, bridges and crowns. Your dentist will work with you to develop a plan to address your concerns—whether that’s yellowing teeth, crooked or missing teeth, or something else that’s bothering you. Any tooth decay or periodontal disease will need attention before the cosmetic procedures.

When helping you correct your smile, dentists take a lot of factors into account. This includes your face and tooth shape, tooth condition, skin tone and even your hair color! All these variables help decide the best course of action for giving you the smile you’ve always wanted.

Everyone’s smile makeover experience will be different. A great dentist will work with you to decide on the procedures that will best address your problem areas.

Cosmetic tooth whitening

By far, the most popular option for smile makeovers is tooth whitening. When you look at the people who populate the media today, they have one thing in common: bright white smiles. For anyone who enjoys red wine, coffee or other food and drink that stains the teeth, this can seem out of reach. Plus, as we age, our teeth slowly discolor. Sometimes, over-the-counter whitening treatments just aren’t enough.

So how does tooth whitening work? There are two types of tooth stains: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic stains are those that have penetrated deep into the enamel and dentin (the surface under the enamel), whereas extrinsic stains are on the surface. Drugstore tooth whiteners and toothpaste may be able to get rid of extrinsic stains, but for stubborn stains, you’ll need to take it to the professionals.

Tooth whitening works by using chemicals that penetrate the enamel and set off an oxidation reaction, which can then break down the stains. Many dentists use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide, sometimes coupled with a high-intensity light to help the process along. Your dentist will gently clean the teeth, and then add the solution, sometimes rinsing and reapplying. This can whiten teeth 4-6 shades in just one 40-minute treatment!

Veneers or crowns

Crowns and veneers are another way to brighten your smile as well as fix gaps, cracked teeth and adjust the shape of your tooth. While veneers are more cosmetic, crowns are designed to look like the original tooth.

Veneers are thin pieces of porcelain, bonded to the front of your teeth. They’re quite durable and can actually protect your teeth by giving them a tough “outer shell.” Like your regular teeth, you can brush and floss them normally. On average, veneers can last about 15 years, and only take about four weeks to complete.

Dental crowns are for more severe dental problems, including cracked, broken and decaying teeth. They fit over the top of the tooth and bond in-place for a permanent solution. If you need dental crowns, your dentist will take care of those first, before additional cosmetic procedures.

Teeth alignment

Finally, in more severe cases, your dentist may recommend a tooth alignment procedure. This can include everything from braces and retainers to invisible tooth straightening systems. While more expensive and time-consuming, these can deliver dramatic, lasting results. More adults are opting to have their teeth realigned, whether because they’re finally able to afford to do so, wish to improve their self-esteem or both. 20% of orthodontic patients today are over the age of 18!

Whatever a smile makeover entails for you, talk to your dentist about how you can improve your smile and self-confidence today.