• Dental contouring involves removing small portions of the tooth enamel to improve your smile.
  • The procedure is permanent and doesn’t usually require anesthesia or recovery time.
  • Because tooth enamel is so thin, reshaping results in subtle changes – it can’t realign teeth.
  • Tooth contouring may be used alongside other dental procedures to achieve the perfect smile.

Are your pearly whites uneven and chipped? If so, tooth contouring is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your smile’s appearance. Here we explore the pros and cons of this common dental procedure.

What is Tooth Contouring?

Tooth contouring goes by many names, including tooth reshaping and dental contouring. Whatever your cosmetic dentist calls it, the basic process is the same. He or she will remove small amounts of tooth enamel to change the shape, surface or length of a tooth. While this may not sound like much, these tiny changes can go a long way towards improving the look of your smile.

Tooth reshaping can help correct small imperfections, such as overlapping teeth, irregularly shaped teeth, chips in the enamel, rough edges, and pronounced pointy cuspids. For example, if you have one tooth that is slightly longer than the others, tooth contouring can shave off the extra length and bring it into line with the others.
Before a tooth reshaping procedure, your dentist might take an X-ray to ensure that your teeth are healthy and that your enamel is thick enough to withstand the procedure.

Tooth enamel is essentially a protective shell for your teeth that shields the sensitive nerves inside from sharp foods and extreme temperature changes, which can cause pain. Given that there are no nerve endings to register pain in the enamel itself, tooth reshaping usually doesn’t require anesthetic.

Once your dentist has determined that you’re a candidate for the procedure, he or she will use an instrument (i.e. a sanding disc, fine diamond bur or even a strip of sandpaper) to carefully remove the enamel. After your teeth have been sanded and shaped, they are polished and smoothed to finish off the procedure.

RELATED: Cosmetic Treatments for a Gummy Smile — From Filler to Lip Surgery

Pros and Cons of Tooth Contouring

Aside from the absence of any downtime, which is a huge plus for patients, results for this procedure can often be achieved in one appointment, making it a quick and affordable way to shape your smile. An appointment can take as little as half an hour.

In addition, enamel doesn’t grow back, so the change is permanent and you won’t need maintenance appointments to keep your newly improved smile looking good.

“The biggest pros of tooth contouring are that it’s minimally invasive – usually, you don’t even have to be numbed for it – and it’s still your own teeth when you’re done since you’re not adding a restoration,” notes Dr. Samantha B. Rawdin, DMD, a prosthodontist who specializes in repairing and replacing teeth.

Tooth contouring is a relatively inexpensive way to improve your smile if all you want is to get a few minor imperfections fixed. Depending on the extent of the work needed, it usually costs between $50 and $300 per tooth.

The Downsides

Because your enamel will be permanently thinner after the procedure, you’ll have to be extra vigilant with your dental care. If the enamel continues to wear thin, you may experience tooth sensitivity.

Simply follow the commonly recommended steps for good oral hygiene and you should be able to avoid this pitfall:

  • Avoid excessive consumption of sugary foods and drinks
  • Make sure your diet contains the recommended amounts of calcium
  • Avoid brushing too hard or fast
  • Use fluoride as advised by your dentist
  • Seek medical advice if you grind your teeth
  • See your dentist for regular checkups

Since tooth enamel is so thin – only about 2.5 millimeters – recontouring can only be performed to treat minor, surface-level imperfections. If you’re looking for more dramatic results, you’ll have to consider other cosmetic dentistry procedures. In fact, tooth reshaping can sometimes be used in conjunction with other procedures to achieve the desired effects.

Is Tooth Contouring for You?

To qualify as a good candidate for this procedure, your enamel must be healthy and thick enough so that your teeth won’t sustain permanent damage if a little bit of it gets shaved off.
If your enamel is too thin or the tooth interior (or pulp) is too close to the surface, you’ll have to consider other treatments. And if you have existing problems with teeth sensitivity, you should discuss this with your dentist beforehand to avoid stripping the protective coat that insulates your teeth.

“A good candidate for tooth contouring is a patient with minor chipping of the edges of teeth that can be smoothed out, or with very minor crowding or malposition of the teeth. Anything more than that will require additional procedures,” explains Dr. Rawdin.

Again, if you are looking to make drastic changes to your smile, tooth contouring simply won’t be able to accomplish this — it’s not a replacement for braces or other similar dental cosmetic procedures. However, tooth contouring may be used to provide the “finishing touch” after braces are removed. Patients should set reasonable expectations for small improvements – not a total transformation.

Dr. Paul Peterson, DDS, who has been practicing dentistry for almost two decades, identifies further criteria that might make someone a less than ideal candidate: “When the wear and tear on the teeth has progressed so far or the color properties of the teeth are so unattractive, smoothing or reshaping the edges won’t improve the appearance much,” he clarifies.

Combining Contouring with Other Cosmetic Procedures

Tooth contouring is often used alongside other cosmetic dental treatments. “Almost every patient I treat orthodontically gets some amount of contouring during treatment,” Dr. Peterson notes. In this section, we review the other options that may be used alongside tooth reshaping.