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15 questions to ask your cosmetic dentist

June 1, 2022
Thinking about having some cosmetic dentistry work? If so, most likely you’re excited, nervous—and wanting to make the right choice. David R. Rice, DDS, offers these questions to ask your cosmetic dentist about your new smile.
David R. Rice, DDS, Chief editor

First things first

The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes 12 dental specialties, and cosmetic dentistry is currently not one of them. That said, there are two types of dentists who can give you the smile you’ve always dreamed of.

The first is a prosthodontist. Prosthodontists commit to advanced training after dental school. This training will help you get what you’re looking for.

The second is a general dentist. They’ve made that same educational commitment and focused their learning and skills on creating beautiful smiles that last.

Having the educational commitment is good. There’s no way to get a good result without it. But when it comes to you and cosmetic dentistry, I’m guessing good isn’t good enough—I’m guessing you’d prefer outstanding. So here are 15 questions that, as a dentist, I would want answers to before I said yes to the dentist doing my cosmetic work:

Where did you receive your advanced training?

Not all training programs are created equal. Find a dentist who has invested in training programs that bring not only classroom learning but also hands-on learning.

How many hours did you train?

Cosmetic dentistry isn’t a 2.5 day walk in the park. Cosmetic dentistry requires advanced knowledge in dental materials and how they work with your bite. As a dentist myself, I’d prefer my dentist to have at least 40 hours of advanced training.

In what specific areas did you train?

Cosmetic dentistry covers a lot of ground. It can involve porcelain veneers, bonding, straightening teeth, crowns, and more. As you ask about your dentist’s training, make sure you ask as it pertains to the dentistry you want and need.

Also by David R. Rice, DDS:

3 toothpastes to use with caution (or avoid completely)

How important is flossing? Straight talk from a dentist

How many procedures of this type have you performed?

Author Malcolm Gladwell shared it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. Some of these hours come from education. Your dentist minimally went to dental school for four years, and some of these hours come from additional training. What you’re asking here is how many hours came performing the procedures you’d like performed. Experience matters.

How long have your restorations lasted?

Beautiful smiles on day one are nice. Beautiful smiles that last are the goal. The average lifespan of porcelain veneers, bonding, and crowns can vary based on the material used, the skill of the dentist, and how well the patient takes care of them.

Do you have before-and-after photos?

As they say, seeing is believing. Dentists with experience in cosmetic dentistry will be able to show you patients they’ve worked on. Loving what you see is a solid indicator for your future smile. Not loving what you see is a good reason to keep looking.

Do you have patient testimonials?

Much like before-and-afters, patient testimonials tell a story of how happy people have been with their new smile. A dentist who has a healthy list of patient testimonials is a dentist to consider.

Do you have dentist testimonials?

I’ll be honest with you: this is a bigger ask than patient testimonials. That said, what I know about today’s top dentists is this: they are dentists to other dentists. If your dentist is this dentist, you are in very good hands.

What can I expect for me?

Everything we’ve asked so far has been to see what others have experienced. Your goal here is to understand what you will experience. How does your dentist expect your new smile will look?

How many appointments do you expect this will take?

Once you’re confident in how you’ll look, it’s a good idea to understand what you’ll go through to get there. This is where your trust comes in. I would highly recommend with all the homework you’re doing, you trust your dentist’s process. Doing this the right way will prevent you from doing it again because you’re unhappy or things don’t last.

How long will they last?

It’s important to truly understand that nothing lasts forever. The most perfect new smile built, depending on your age, will need more work in the future. Having a realistic expectation on how long you can count on before that happens will help you make your best choice.

What can I expect as far as temporaries?

Wearing temporary restorations will be a thing for most cosmetic dental procedures. Knowing you’ll look good is important, but so is knowing you’ll speak well.

What restrictions will I have when I have temporaries?

Temporaries are just that—temporary. Understanding the dos and do nots is key. Knowing you can live with those dos and do nots is also key. Be honest with your dentist and yourself.

Do you have photos of patients in temporaries?

I’ve found patients to be more anxious about how their temporaries will look than anything else. It makes sense as many patients have had a bad experience with temporaries in the past. Ask your dentist for pictures of their patients with their temporaries.

How long of a recovery period should I expect?

You want to understand what kind of recovery you’ll need from each appointment in your process. Knowing how long and what to expect will help you know when it’s the right time to go after that new smile.

No doubt, cosmetic dentistry gets pretty involved. Take the time to do your homework, including asking every prospective dentist these 15 questions. The dentists who build beautiful smiles day in and out will appreciate you wanting to know more.