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Cosmetic dental treatments: what you need to know

Cosmetic dental treatments are essentially any type of procedure or treatment type that improves the appearance of your teeth. They tend to fall into these main types:

  • Tooth restoration – repairing the appearance of teeth that have been damaged or become worn
  • Teeth whitening – lightening the shade of your teeth using chemicals
  • Tooth straightening – also known as orthodontics, adjusting the alignment of teeth, usually with braces

Many cosmetic dental treatments are only available to adults through private treatment, although some tooth restoration procedures e.g. fillings and crowns, are available to NHS patients. The cost of cosmetic dental procedures will vary, depending on what is required and who is carrying it out, but some courses of treatment e.g. veneers, can run into many thousands of pounds. If you’re considering undergoing cosmetic dental procedures, it’s important to understand the risks as well as the benefits, to make sure you can make an informed decision about your treatment plan and will know what to expect.

The most common cosmetic dental treatments

Some of the most popular types of cosmetic dental treatments include:

Tooth-coloured composite fillings

Rather than using an amalgam filling (silver-coloured), your dentist may suggest a ‘white’ or ‘tooth-coloured’ composite filling, especially if the tooth being filled is at the front of the mouth or will be visible when speaking or smiling.


A thin layer of porcelain or resin is placed over the front of worn, discoloured or damaged teeth to restore their appearance. Veneers can also be used to make crooked teeth appear straight or to cover small gaps between teeth.

Teeth whitening

You can have your teeth professionally whitened by a dentist, using a gel containing bleach. Usually this involves having to wear a mouth tray for a set period of time to allow the chemicals to work.

Teeth straightening

Teeth are usually straightened over time using a type of braces. There are several different types of braces that work in slightly different ways, and some are more visible than others. They all gradually move teeth by applying pressure to push them into the desired positions. Usually, braces will need to be worn for between a few months and a few years, depending on the treatment type.

The risks of cosmetic dental treatments

Composite fillings are not always as durable as amalgam ones, meaning that they are not necessarily suitable for all types of fillings or circumstances and could need replacing or repairing after a period of time. Your dentist should discuss this with you before you agree to a treatment plan including a composite filling.

Veneers can fail or require replacing if they are fitted poorly or if an appropriate cleaning and oral health routine is not maintained after the procedure. They can last for several years if the procedure is successful, but are likely to need replacing at some point.

Tooth whitening can permanently damage your teeth if the treatment is not carried out correctly. Home whitening kits are especially dangerous, but even professional tooth whitening procedures done by dentists can go wrong if instructions are not followed precisely or the treatment is carried out poorly by a dental professional. Tooth whitening treatments don’t give permanent results; they can last for a couple of years, but the effects of the treatment will wear off eventually. Tooth whitening can also result in increased sensitivity in your teeth and gum irritation, in some cases.

Braces can be uncomfortable to wear and can be difficult to clean and maintain, so they are not for everyone. Some cases of tooth misalignment may be too severe to be treated with braces.

What if cosmetic dental treatment goes wrong?

Sometimes, cosmetic dental procedures can go wrong and your dentist may be at fault if they have not carried out their work to a good standard or have failed in their duty of care to you, the patient. If your dentist did not properly explain the risks of a type of treatment they recommend and it causes you pain, discomfort or means that you require more costly treatment to rectify the problem, you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

Contact the Dental Law Partnership for free initial advice and to discuss your options, on 0808 271 5268.