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Do your teeth look as if they belong in a battered pirate's maw, but you don't have thousands of dollars to invest in braces or veneers? Here are some less painful alternatives to get your teeth up to shine.

Removable appliances

Retainers and other such devices can be outfitted with wires and springs that shift teeth - often for less than $200, plus the cost of checkups. "For people who are not speaking constantly and not terribly self-conscious, it's the most cost-effective way to go," says Dr. Norma Chou, a Toronto orthodontist. "You can get considerable tooth movement, and you can remove it to clean your teeth.

"The disadvantages are that you can see the wire and it's totally dependent on patient co-operation. If the retainer case at home is wearing it, it doesn't do a lot of good."

A newer-style retainer is made of a clear plastic mould that encases the teeth, similar to the Invisalign brand of braces. "This type may be more acceptable than regular retainers because some have no wires at all," says Dr. Chou.

Depending on the amount of movement required, you could be lisping for three to six months. Once treatment is finished, you'll have to continue wearing the appliance at night or have a wire bonded behind the teeth for maintenance.


Your regular dentist can fix an uneven smile by building up chipped, worn down, or gapped teeth with composite resin, a plastic material. After shaping and polishing, the bonding agent is indistinguishable from the real thing and teeth look straighter across the horizontal line. "It will eventually wear away and have to be redone," says Dr. Chou. "But it's not nearly as big a cost as replacing veneers." Expect to pay about $200 to $600 per tooth, depending on the size and complexity of the repair.

Gum surgery

Using a laser or knife, a periodontist can raise and reshape the gum line, lengthen small, square teeth, and create a less "gummy" smile. The gums are frozen for the surgery and heal within days. "It works very well in conjunction with minor tooth movement," says Dr. Chou. As with bonding, your teeth may appear more even and proportional from side to side.

Cost varies considerably - your upper four front-and-centres could set you back a teeth-gritting $1,000 - but may be covered by insurance.

Tooth recontouring

A small sanding disk can bring large or misshapen teeth into line with a few strokes. "Sometimes just trimming the edges is all you need," says Dr. Chou, though she warns that removing enamel can make teeth more susceptible to tooth decay. "We tend not to do it for kids because they don't brush very well, but it can work for someone who takes good care of their teeth."

And don't do this … Aim for perfection. Real teeth don't look like the veneers on TV.