Many people may have confusion over the differences between restorative and cosmetic dentistry. While both types of dentistry are similar in that they help restore tooth decay and damage, there are some key differences between them. These differences will ultimately determine which type of procedure is best for you, if needed.

Because general dentists provide preventative care, cosmetic procedure, and full mouth rehabilitation, you won’t need to see a specialist for these kinds of treatments. Instead, you can communicate with your regular dentist if you’re looking for a specific type of restorative or cosmetic treatment. Some treatment options may overlap between the two, and they are often used in coordination to provide the right care.

Let’s take a look at the differences between these two dentistry niches and what standards for treatment you can expect from each.

What Is Restorative Dentistry?

Restorative dentistry involves certain general dentistry procedures that help to properly manage your oral health and function. This type of care includes any preventative or corrective treatment options your dentist may use to protect teeth functionality and well-being against decay, damage, and disease. And, in the process of keeping your mouth functional, restorative dentistry can also improve your smile’s appearance.

Restorative dentistry procedures may include:

  • Crowns and caps
  • Fillings
  • Inlays and onlays
  • Bridges
  • Dental implants
  • Dentures
  • Root canal therapy

These restorative procedures usually fall under one of two categories: direct and indirect. Direct tooth restoration refers to fixing a cavity with a dental filling. This type of procedure only involves one office visit, where the appropriate filling is used to fix the cavity. Your dentist will also consider chewing pressure when determining what filling to use.

Indirect tooth restoration, on the other hand, involves either a partial or complete tooth replacement. Inlays and onlays are used for partial tooth replacements, while your dentist may recommend dental crowns, dental implants, or bridges for missing or severely damaged teeth. Indirect restoration involves several office visits before treatment is complete.

What Is Cosmetic Dentistry?

Cosmetic dentistry is more focused on the aesthetic appearance of the mouth. While functionality and well-being are considered, most cosmetic procedures are used to improve the look of your teeth. This is done through a variety of procedures and techniques that can help improve your teeth’s shape, color, size, and alignment, as well as better the appearance of the bite and gums.

There are many reasons people may choose to improve their smile’s appearance. Some may have yellowed, chipped, or uneven teeth they feel self-conscious about, while others may want their mouth size or bite adjusted for comfort reasons. Whatever the case, any patient concerned with visual dental problems can pursue cosmetic dentistry treatment options.

Popular Cosmetic Dentistry Procedures

Some common cosmetic dentistry procedures include:

  • Whitening: Your dentist can use teeth whitening procedures to bleach the surfaces of your teeth and eliminate any yellowing or discoloration. Some whitening options can actually be done at home, while others require a dental office visit.
  • Contouring: During this cosmetic procedure, your dentist will use either sanding tools or a laser to contour and shape your teeth to a certain width, length, or position. Contouring is the perfect solution for those with overlapping teeth or teeth that sit at undesired angles.
  • Alignment: Braces and Invisalign are some of the most common cosmetic dental procedures patients elect to have for straightening and aligning their teeth. Both of these cosmetic dental treatment options have been proven to fix any misalignment in your mouth. Other elements can be used in addition to braces, such as spacers to push teeth apart, power chains for moving teeth closer together, or elastics to improve the jaw and bite.
  • Bonding: If your teeth have minor discoloration or small chips, your dentist can use putty that’s tooth-colored and molds to fit and fill chips or other holes. Bonding can even be used for minor cavities, but the putty must be reapplied every few years for best results.
  • Veneers: These plastic or porcelain shells are placed over the front of the tooth and cemented on to improve shape and color. People may elect to get veneers if they want that perfect smile without the hassle of bonding and whitening.

Differences Between Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry

You’ve probably already gotten a sense of how restorative and cosmetic dentistry differ from one another. While there are instances where these two types of dentistry are used in tandem with each other, here are some other distinctions between the two that you may not have considered.

  • Elective Care vs. Essential Care

Cosmetic dental procedures are elective, meaning that the patient chooses that they want the procedure rather than it being necessary for their oral health. Most people seek elective dental care when they are unhappy with the appearance of their smile but aren’t necessarily experiencing any pain or other problematic symptoms.

On the other hand, restorative dental treatments are considered essential because most people seeking this type of treatment are experiencing symptoms like swelling, pain, or bleeding. Those needing restorative care typically want relief from these symptoms, so this type of care has more urgency than elective care.

  • Purpose

According to Cosmetic dentist, the main goal of restorative dental care is to restore functionality and alleviate any severe symptoms of pain and discomfort. For example, a patient may need a root canal and dental crown placement due to decay to protect the tooth’s surface from future damage.

Cosmetic dental care is used for the sole purpose of improving the visual appearance of the teeth and mouth. Options like whitening treatments and veneers don’t necessarily improve the functionality of your oral health and are typically only performed on teeth that are overall healthy.

  • Dental Materials

Materials used in cosmetic and restorative dentistry are fabricated differently. Because restorative treatment is usually essential, things like fillings and crowns are made from durable and affordable materials, such as a mixture of different metals.

Cosmetic treatment options are both durable and aesthetic in appearance. They are either translucent or colored to blend in with surrounding teeth, such as color fillings that can be matched to blend in with the remaining tooth structure.