Shed years with a fresh look for your teeth

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Everyone's interested in looking younger these days. Even 20-year-olds complain about wrinkles and dark circles -- something I don't remember worrying about until I was much older.

The plastic surgeons and cosmetic suppliers do a booming business trying to make us all look younger.

But maybe the cosmetics aren't working for you, and surgery just seems too drastic. Did you know that there are many ways to bring back that youthful look by improving your smile and your bite?

As we age, our teeth and gums change. Our teeth become yellow or worn from many years of use, and our gums tend to recede, showing more of the tooth surface, and sometimes leaving "black holes" between our teeth. Some of the remedies for these conditions can be simple and non-invasive, doing little or no harm to the tooth surface.

Let's start with the easy fixes first. If you've noticed your smile becoming more yellow through the years, whitening your teeth can do wonders to brighten your smile and give you that Hollywood dazzle. There are many ways to whiten your teeth, and while some may seem to be less expensive, they may cost you more in the long run. Some whitening treatments are fast, but very expensive, and are not long lasting.

The whitening treatments you can buy over the counter at the drug stores are probably the least expensive option. However, you have to buy several treatments to get the level of whitening you want. So although it appears to be less expensive, that brilliant smile you desire may cost more than going to your dentist for a custom whitening experience.

Perhaps you have heard of the "zoom whitening" method? This is done in a dental office using a special ultra-violet light. It takes about an hour and the effects are immediate, but it also fades quickly. (You may lose up to one shade of whiteness in a day). It is also very expensive, costing up to $800.00. This is something that you have to pay for each time you whiten, and you will need to whiten again.

There is another option which is done at home using custom made trays prepared by your dentist. This option is probably the most economical in the long run, because after the initial tray is made (costing from $100-$300), you can bleach as often as you like at a minimal cost (about $10/bleach tube refill).

Black spaces between the front teeth are another condition that can age you. There are a few ways to fill in these spaces. The first, and least expensive, is to place a white filling between your teeth using a method that bonds the filling directly to the tooth's enamel without removing any of the tooth's surface. This is the easiest, least invasive and least expensive way to remedy this problem. This would be a good choice only if you have nothing else wrong with your teeth.

If you have decay or other defects to your teeth, a better option would be veneers, a thin facing that is placed on the front of the teeth. Although this option is more expensive, the results are beautiful! Many problems can be corrected with veneers, including crowding, discoloration, and deformity. Also adding to the surface of the front teeth makes the lips appear plumper, fuller. A small amount of the tooth surface is removed in order to obtain a perfect fit for the thin veneers. Veneers usually last many, many years.

As we age, and our molars (back teeth), either wear down or are lost, our mouths close more than they did when we were younger. The over closed bite causes us to look older. By adding a thin coating of filling material to our back teeth and opening our bite slightly, our face appears to fill out, wrinkles disappear and voila an instant facelift takes place. Adding one millimeter to the surface of the back teeth translates into three millimeters of "lift" to the front of the mouth. Also, by adding to the sides of the back teeth, the smile appears wider, the cheeks appear lifted. This is a very precise process that must be done by a qualified dentist. A qualified dentist will take the time to make sure your bite is just right before proceeding with the final product.

Unlike plastic surgery, all of these treatments are low risk, and leave you without scars. So, why not treat yourself to a new smile in the New Year? Together with your dentist, you can decide which procedure would be the best one for you. I can't wait to see the new, younger looking you!

Barbara Moody is a registered dental hygienist at Walla Walla Dental Care. For more information about the practice, go to www.wallawalladentalcare.com.

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