The Differences Between Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry Broken Down

You just left your dentist’s office and are now more hopeful that the appearance and health of your teeth and smile can be improved. But, you are confused about which treatments will be restorative and which will be cosmetic. This is a very common question.

To help clear things up, in this article, we’ve broken down what you need to know about restorative versus cosmetic dentistry, including the differences between the two and why those differences matter as your treatment progresses.

The Basic Difference Between Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry

Although cosmetic and restorative dentistry have much in common, their essential difference rests on the goal of the work being done:

Restorative dentistry is part of your treatment plan when there are decayed, damaged, or missing teeth that must be addressed. You may have sought help from your dentist because you had dental pain, bleeding, or swelling associated with those particular teeth. The work performed by your dentist to alleviate these symptoms and return the teeth to a healthy state is considered essential.

Cosmetic dentistry, on the other hand, is the elective part of your treatment plan in which procedures are done to change the shape, color, alignment, or size of the teeth. If you have teeth that are stained, worn, chipped, broken, misaligned, misshapen, or have gaps between them, cosmetic dentistry can resolve these issues. A “smile makeover” uses one or more cosmetic dentistry procedures to improve the appearance of your overall smile. This kind of work is less urgent because it is not addressing pain, bleeding, or swelling in your mouth. Cosmetic dentistry will improve your smile and make you more comfortable with your appearance.

In many cases, restorative work must be done first because your teeth and mouth must be healthy before the cosmetic work can be done. General dentists have the training and ability to perform both kinds of work, so there isn’t any need to go to a specialist for either restorative or cosmetic work. 

Digging Deeper Into Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the differences between the restorative and cosmetic parts of your treatment plan. Your dental team will guide you through the process, but it’s important that you understand the plan. There will be some elective work, so you need to be ready with the facts!

Different Purposes of Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry

As mentioned above, restorative dentistry is designed to restore the function of the teeth while cosmetic dentistry improves visual appearance. For example, a root canal is a restorative procedure while veneers are cosmetic.

Here are some other dental procedures that are generally classified as restorative:

Procedures that are generally cosmetic include:

  • Composite fillings
  • Veneers
  • Whitening
  • Braces
  • Dental bonding

There will be some overlap between restorative and cosmetic dentistry, depending on the purpose of the procedure. An example of this is a crown placed after a root canal. The crown is being used as a way to protect the remaining tooth structure from any further decay or damage. But when a crown is used only to improve the appearance of the tooth, it is considered a cosmetic procedure. 

Different Dental Materials Between the Two Types of Dentistry

Materials used for restorative and cosmetic dentistry often differ, too.

Restorative work carried out for repair work often uses materials that are durable, such as amalgam fillings. The mixture of metals for amalgams results in extremely strong materials that will last as long as possible. They are also more affordable but not always aesthetically pleasing.

Cosmetic dental materials offer both: aesthetics and durability. Fillings, for example, are composite fillings made from resin instead of metal, because the materials used are selected to match the surrounding teeth. This attention by the dentist to how the filling looks in your mouth is more expensive work, however.

Whether to use amalgam fillings or composite resins is a personal decision made by patients and their dental team. This is why it is important for you to understand the differences between a restorative and a cosmetic procedure, along with the pros and cons. 

The Differences in Costs and Insurance Coverage

The demand for cosmetic dental work has increased over the years and the availability has grown to keep up. These procedures can be costly and the prices vary widely. Most insurance plans will not cover cosmetic dental work, because it is considered elective work. However, insurance may cover some of the cost of a cosmetic procedure if it is considered to be medically necessary.

In most cases, you’ll find that dental insurance covers much more of the cost of restorative versus cosmetic procedures.

It is best to check with any insurance coverage you have before proceeding with any dental work. You can discuss this with the staff at your dentist’s office, too. Ask questions and examine any insurance policy carefully on cosmetic procedures. This can help you narrow down the options so you can make the best decision possible.

In many cases, discount dental plans are also available to take some of the burden off the client in these scenarios. These are discounts on dental procedures, not insurance plans. Examine these policies on cosmetic procedures to make sure that they cover or discount the procedures you would like. 

One plan, for example, includes discounts on all cosmetic procedures except, in some cases, teeth whitening and invisible braces. Discounts start right away and include braces for adults and children, implants, caps, crowns, and veneers. Cosmetic procedures can run from 20-60% off and around $99 per year for one individual.


TLC Dental Center Can Meet Both Your Restorative & Cosmetic Dental Needs

As you look to improve the function, health, or aesthetics of your smile, Dr. Kardon and the team here at TLC Dental Center will work with you to meet your individual needs and give you the smile you deserve. We can create a customized treatment plan including the restorative or cosmetic treatments you need to address your goals.

Contact us today to schedule your appointment!