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Composite Bonding

What it is:
The composite material is reinforced plastic that can repair chips, cracks, and small gaps between the teeth, as well as cover white spots (caused by calcium deposits) that become more apparent as teeth wear down with age. The dentist sculpts the plastic onto the tooth and hardens it with a special light. After it's hardened, it's sanded and polished so that the surface appears seamless with the natural tooth.

Best for: Small fixes.

Does it work? Yes, and very well. Though the composite material can gradually stain, bonding can be done in one office visit, and it's less expensive and invasive than other fixes like veneers. It lasts from five to 15 years, depending on the quality of the dentist's work and whether or not you're a grinder.

Cost: $200 to $500 per tooth, depending on the complexity of the restoration.

Porcelain Veneer

What it is: A very thin layer of porcelain, about 0.5 to 1 millimeter, that's bonded onto the entire front of the tooth. To prepare teeth for veneers, the dentist may have to reduce the enamel surface from 0.7 to 1 millimeter or slightly more, depending on the position and shape of the teeth and how crowded they are (so the veneer doesn't look too thick). The dentist delivers a mold of the patient's tooth to a lab where a ceramicist makes the veneer, working closely with the dentist on the shape and color. The process typically takes a week. When the veneer is ready, the dentist etches the surface of the tooth, which allows a bonding agent to be absorbed, attaches the veneer, and hardens the bonding agent with a light.

Best for: Improving crooked, widely gapped, or badly stained teeth. With veneers, a dentist can change the size, shape, color, and position of teeth in a few office visits.

Does it work? Yes. Veneers can make a dramatic difference in a smile, last about 20 years, don't stain or chip, and require no maintenance.

Cost: $1,000 to $2,000 per tooth.

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