Cosmetic dentistry offers lots of options, but it can take a bite out of your budget

Adults face a variety of age-related changes to their teeth and gums that can create a less youthful-looking smile. Consequently, many people turn to cosmetic dentistry, even though this can add up to hefty dental bills. Medicare and most private insurance won't pay for cosmetic dental procedures.

If you're considering a dental makeover, here's a rundown of available procedures. (Note that costs may vary depending on the extent of work you need done and your location.

1. Teeth whitening. During this procedure, your dentist applies a bleaching agent to your teeth and activates it with an ultraviolet light. Professional bleaching costs about $600. In-office bleaching can take from 45 minutes to two hours per session and may take several sessions. Alternatively, laser whitening costs more than $1,000 but can be done in one visit.

Some less expensive options are over-the-counter bleaching kits ($25 and up) or other whitening products like gels or strips ranging from a few dollars to more than $100. None are as effective as professional whitening, though, and no whitening procedure is permanent; your teeth will discolor again over time.

2. Veneers. These custom-made plastic or porcelain moldings cover your decayed teeth and typically last 10 to 15 years. Veneers cost $700 to $2,500 per tooth.

Synthetic composite veneers cost significantly less (starting at around $250 per tooth) but last only five to seven years.

3. Bonding. Bonding with a tooth-colored material is probably the quickest and most inexpensive ($300 to $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.

4. Crowns. Made of porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, enamel or resin, crowns cost $600 to $3,100 each. 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.

5. 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 and cements a crown on top of the post. While a basic implant typically costs $1,250 to $3,000, additional dental work may be required to strengthen the jawbone or lift the sinus cavity. In these cases, implant costs can escalate to as much as $15,000 to $30,000.

6. Gum surgery. Surgery can remove gum tissue scarred and ravaged by periodontal disease. The periodontal surgeon typically reshapes the gums using tissue taken from the palate.

7. Braces. New invisible ceramic braces are available for around $3,000 to $7,000. If you have veneers, you'll need old-fashioned metal braces, because ceramic won't attach to them. Another option is invisible "braces”"(like Invisalign). They're available for $3,500 to $6,000 and can be worn with veneers.

8. Bridges. Permanent bridges (sometimes called fixed partial dentures) include one or more false teeth implanted between two porcelain crowns. A permanent bridge typically costs $500 to $900 per tooth.

9. Dentures. Removable dentures are typically made of acrylic resin, metal or porcelain and can be partial or complete—depending on how many teeth you're missing. Removable dentures cost from about $500 for a partial set to $2,500 for a full set. A good pair of removable dentures will look like your natural teeth, but you may need to wear an adhesive to help them stick to your gums. Check your insurance—dentures may be partially covered.

A final note

After cosmetic dental work, it's imperative to maintain healthy dental habits, like brushing and flossing twice a day, to prolong the life of your procedure.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 18 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015