Tooth Contouring and Reshaping Tips

Tooth contouring, also known as tooth reshaping, enameloplasty, or odontoplasty, is a cosmetic dental procedure that fixes minor issues with your smile. It involves removing small portions of tooth enamel to correct chipped, cracked, or crooked teeth or improve their appearance. This work, performed using specialized instruments or removable strips, is generally painless and well-tolerated.

This article provides a quick overview of tooth contouring, including the benefits of the procedure, risks, and what care is like afterward.  

Dental professional holding a tray of dental tools

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Are You a Good Candidate for Dental Contouring?

Generally speaking, dental or tooth contouring is an elective cosmetic procedure. This treatment is not appropriate for all patients and all cases. The conditions best treated with this procedure are:

  • Small chips or cracks in the teeth
  • Pits or bulges in tooth enamel
  • Shortening overlong teeth (especially pointy ones)
  • Minor misalignments of the teeth
  • Uneven smile

Significant dental issues or damage can’t be treated with tooth contouring or may require treatments alongside it. In those cases, dental crowns, orthodontics, veneers, bonding, bridges, or other approaches are considered.

Underlying tooth health is also a factor; cavities, loose teeth, or other issues can contraindicate tooth reshaping.

Reshaping Canine Teeth

Among the most common tooth contouring procedures focuses on altering the appearance of your canine teeth (the pointy teeth, also known as cuspids). The aim of this work to reduce the length of these teeth by evenly and methodically grinding away the excess enamel.

What to Expect at the Procedure

Tooth reshaping and contouring is performed by a dentist or cosmetic dentist in the office. Here’s what you need to know about how it’s done:

  • Painless procedure: Tooth filing just occurs on the outer, enamel layer of your teeth. Since this layer doesn’t have nerves, it’s a painless procedure. However, you can request an anesthetic if you’re concerned about discomfort.
  • Instruments: Dentists have several options nowadays. Alongside traditional drills, specialized lasers can also remove outer layers of enamel, and strips (with an abrasive edge, like sandpaper) can be used to work on the sides of the tooth.
  • Polishing: After the tooth is contoured and reshaped, the dentist will often perform tooth polishing. This involves smoothing over and removing discoloration from your teeth to give them an attractive, glossy appearance.

Benefits

While tooth reshaping isn’t appropriate for every case, there are a number of key benefits to having this work done. These include:

  • It’s a more conservative method than other cosmetic dentistry approaches.
  • It’s painless and very well tolerated.
  • Recovery is immediate; you can resume normal eating and drinking afterward.
  • Contouring can help change anatomy or overhangs that can lead to increased tartar build-up, preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Improvement in self-esteem and feelings of self-worth as your smile is improved.  

Potential Risks

As with any dental procedure—and despite your dentist’s best efforts—there are some potential risks to tooth reshaping. The enamel layer is very thin—only about 2.6 millimeters—so dentists have to be very careful; problems can arise if too much is taken off.

Tooth contouring may cause:

  • Temporary tooth sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Increased risk for tooth decay or damage
  • Yellowing of the teeth
  • Potential recurrence in cases of tooth grinding (“bruxism”)

Don’t Try This at Home

Given the potential for damage to your teeth, tooth contouring isn’t something you should try at home. Not only is a great deal of special training needed, it’s especially dangerous to perform this work on your own mouth. In doing so, you risk damaging your own teeth.

Aftercare

Unlike many other cosmetic dental treatments, no special steps are needed when recovering from tooth reshaping. It’ll be important, however, to keep up with the basics of dental hygiene:

You should also call your dentist if your teeth feel rough afterward. This may be a sign of plaque or tartar build-up, or another issue with the procedure.

Summary

Tooth contouring, also known as odontoplasty or enameloplasty, is a cosmetic procedure that aims to reshape your teeth to correct the appearance of your smile. While there are limitations to what it can do, this treatment can shorten overlong incisors, fix minor chips and cracks and pits in tooth enamel, and make your teeth more symmetrical.

While this is a painless, well-tolerated procedure, there are a couple of risks. Risks include temporary tooth sensitivity, increased risk of tooth decay or damage, or yellowing of the teeth.

While no specific steps are needed for aftercare, you should still monitor dental health, brush twice a day, floss daily, and get regular dental care.

A Word From Verywell

While it’s easy to dismiss work like tooth contouring as merely “cosmetic,” it’s important to remember the many benefits of having an even, attractive set of teeth. It can be stigmatizing and difficult to feel unattractive or to feel you have to hide your teeth. With effective intervention and the help of a good dentist, however, you may find your confidence restored. And that’s something worth smiling about.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is teeth contouring permanent?

    Since teeth contouring involves physically filing down and reshaping your teeth, it is permanent work. As such, the decision to go ahead with this treatment should be a very careful one. You and your dentist will need to weigh the potential impact of tooth contouring as it’s irreversible.

  • Is teeth contouring painful?

    The enamel of your teeth that gets filed and reshaped during tooth contouring doesn’t have any nerves in it. Therefore, you won’t feel pain during the procedure. Generally, no anesthetic is needed, though patients who are concerned about discomfort can request it.

  • How much does teeth reshaping cost?

    In general, most cosmetic dental treatments aren’t covered by insurance, unless the work fulfills a medical need. There’s a great range in how much this treatment costs, with very much dependent on the specific case. In the U.S., you can expect to pay between $50 to $300 per tooth for tooth reshaping.

  • Is contouring bad for your teeth?

    While contouring has some risks, since it’s a minimally invasive procedure it poses little actual risk to your teeth. That said, there’s little room for error with this work; the outer, enamel layer of your teeth is very thin, and problems can arise if too much is taken off. Those who’ve had tooth reshaping are at an increased risk of tooth sensitivity, tooth decay, or tooth cracking.

  • Does insurance cover teeth contouring?

    Insurance plans will only cover tooth contouring work if it fulfills a medical need. This means that you may be partially or fully covered only if the reshaping is needed to fix teeth damaged by an accident or fall.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Napitu A, Hong J. Teeth filing: smile makeover with tooth contouring. Dentaly.

  3. American Cosmetic Dentistry. What is teeth contouring.