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Can big teeth be shaved down?

Reshaping is not always recommended since large teeth may not be the actual cause of your uneven smile.
Reshaping is not always recommended since large teeth may not be the actual cause of your uneven smile.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Julia Roberts may be an Academy Award winner and a regular on People Magazine's "Most Beautiful" list, but it seems she's largely envied for her smile. Likewise, Tom Cruise may be known for yelling "show me the money!" or jumping on Oprah's couch, but it's hard to top that "Top Gun" million-dollar smile. Indeed, cosmetic dentists report that Julia and her equally toothy colleague Tom are celebrities whose teeth dental patients most want to emulate [source: Chicago Dental Society].

While many people want the movie star look of bigger teeth, there are still some who want to go the other way, wishing their choppers were a little less prominent. In such cases, a dentist can reshape the teeth in question.

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Also called recontouring, striping, slenderizing or -- more informally -- shaving, tooth reshaping involves a dentist removing small amounts of enamel from a tooth to alter its length or shape. It's a simple procedure, but it can only be performed on teeth that have adequate enamel. Beneath enamel, our teeth have a material known as dentin. And because dentin can feel sensations, there must be enough enamel left to protect it. Your dentist can usually determine whether you have sufficient enamel by taking an X-ray of your teeth.

If you're considering having some of your teeth reshaped, learn more about the procedure -- and alternatives -- on the next page.

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There may be many things to dread about visiting your dentist's office, but tooth reshaping doesn't have to be one of them. The procedure is simple, quick and painless -- and you won't even need to have your mouth numbed for it.

Much like you might smooth the surface of wood with sandpaper, your dentist refines a tooth's shape by using a sanding disc or diamond bur. After the reshaping has been performed, he or she will then complete the new look of the tooth by polishing it.

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Reshaping, however, is not always the recommended procedure for altering the shape or size of a tooth. This is because what you think is the problem -- large teeth -- may not be the actual cause of your uneven smile. Often, one tooth will look large in comparison to another tooth that's too small. Call it a dental optical illusion, but cosmetic dentists say it's a pretty common mistake [source: Bakeman].

If the real problem is a tooth that's a bit too small, the solution is bonding, which involves having tooth-colored resin applied to the tooth to lengthen or widen it. While bonding is a little more complicated than reshaping, it's still one of the easier, more painless cosmetic dental procedures.

So, is reshaping good for your teeth? If a dentist removes too much enamel from one of your teeth, it could make the tooth more sensitive to hot and cold substances. However, if it's performed correctly, reshaping doesn't harm teeth. In fact, it may benefit your overall dental health by removing nooks and crannies where plaque and tartar can hide out.

Thinking about picking up the phone to call your dentist and create a celebrity smile to rival Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise -- or even Gary Busey? Keep reading for lots more information about dental health.

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Sources

  • Bakeman, Elizabeth. DDS. Accredited Fellow Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Personal Interview. Oct. 14, 2011.
  • Chicago Dental Society. "Julia Roberts Still Has Winning Smile." Feb. 23, 2010. (Oct. 16, 2011) http://www.pitchengine.com/chicagodentalsociety/julia-roberts-still-has-winning-smile/48303/
  • WebMD. "Dental Health and Recontouring Teeth." March 15, 2009. (Oct. 16, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/recontouring-teeth
  • WebMD. "Your Teeth and Dental Bonding." Feb. 8, 2009. (Oct. 16, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dental-bonding

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