What's the Difference Between Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry?

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
October 19, 2023

A young woman at the dentist looking at her teeth after a cleaning

Your smile isn't just a significant part of your identity, but it also has an impact on your self-esteem and overall well-being. There are different branches of dentistry — preventive, cosmetic and restorative — that work together to address your dental health and aesthetic concerns. 

At the heart is preventive dentistry. Regular dental check-ups, thorough cleanings and good hygiene practices at home form the foundation for long-term oral health. 

Beyond preventive care are cosmetic and restorative dentistry. While they’re at times used interchangeably, there are key differences to know. We’re here to help you understand these distinctions to make the most informed decisions about your own dental health.

What is cosmetic dentistry?

Cosmetic dentistry is a specialized branch of dentistry primarily dedicated to enhancing the aesthetic aspects of your smile. The overarching goal is to help you achieve a smile you’re proud of, boost self-confidence and improve your overall well-being. 

There are several common procedures that cater to various cosmetic concerns, like:

  • Teeth whitening: Removes stains and discoloration, restoring the natural brightness of your teeth. 
  • Veneers: Thin porcelain or composite resin shells custom-made to cover the front surface of teeth to correct chips, stains, gaps and misalignment.
  • Dental bonding: A tooth-colored resin material is applied to teeth, then shaped and polished to repair minor imperfections like chips and small gaps.

What is restorative dentistry?

Restorative dentistry is a vital branch of dental care focused on repairing and restoring damaged or missing teeth, as well as ensuring your overall mouth health and functionality. Its primary objectives are to address dental issues related to decay, damage or tooth loss, ultimately improving your oral health and quality of life.

Common restorative procedures include: 

  • Dental fillings: Resin, amalgam or porcelain used to repair cavities and small areas of tooth decay.
  • Dental crowns: Custom-made caps that cover damaged or weakened teeth, providing protection and restoring their strength and appearance.
  • Dental bridges: Artificial teeth anchored to adjacent natural teeth or implants to replace missing teeth.
  • Dental implants: Titanium posts surgically placed to serve as artificial tooth roots, supporting crowns, bridges or dentures — effectively replacing missing teeth.

Cosmetic vs. restorative dentistry

One of the primary distinctions between cosmetic and restorative dentistry lies in their core objectives. Cosmetic dentistry is primarily concerned with enhancing the appearance of your teeth and the overall aesthetics of your smile. It focuses on elective procedures that improve the color, shape, size and alignment of teeth to create a more appealing and confident smile. Conversely, restorative dentistry’s main emphasis is on functionality and health. It aims to diagnose and treat dental issues related to decay, damage or tooth loss to restore the proper function and structural integrity of teeth.

Another notable difference between these two is the nature of the procedures involved. Cosmetic dentistry is typically non-essential from a health perspective, while restorative treatments are essential for addressing problematic conditions and maintaining oral health.

Dental insurance coverage

It’s crucial to note that insurance companies often prioritize restorative procedures for coverage. Since restorative treatments are deemed necessary to address dental health issues and prevent further complications, they're more likely to be eligible for insurance benefits. Cosmetic procedures, on the other hand, are typically considered elective and aimed at improving aesthetics rather than addressing medical concerns. 

Consequently, dental insurance plans may not fully cover cosmetic dentistry procedures, and patients often need to cover these costs out of pocket. There may be exceptions depending on the specific insurance plan and the extent of dental issues associated with cosmetic procedures, so it’s advisable to consult with both your dentist and insurance provider to determine coverage options.

All the dental care you need 

While cosmetic and restorative dentistry share the goal of achieving a healthy, attractive smile, they differ in various ways. Insurance plans typically prioritize restorative procedures as medically necessary. As a result, it’s important to consult your insurance provider before undergoing any dental treatments. 

Spirit Dental offers a variety of dental insurance plans to help patients cover costs for the care they need. 

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