Open Up and Say, "Ahhh …"

Most people don't exactly count down the moments to a dental appointment—or ones with their orthodontists or oral surgeons, for that matter—with glee. We know it. The tooth docs know it. But the hours of poking, slicing, and drilling you sat through as a kid are—mostly—over. Here's our guide to the same, stubborn tooth issues, their old, uncomfortable fixes, and the new solutions that might put a smile on your face even before your date with the dentist. —A. M.

Problem Old fix New fix Pros Cons Cost
Overgrown, uneven gums Just a chair and a (gulp!) scalpel. A soft tissue laser that allows your dentist to gently trim away at excess gum tissue. No need to schedule an additional appointment for surgery, and, of course, less pain. For the dentist? Coughing up funds for an expensive laser and a certification from the Academy of Laser Dentistry. For you? Nada. It depends on how tricky and extensive your treatment will be, so anywhere from $100-$1,200. About the same as the old-fashioned way.
Crooked teeth Unsightly braces that need regular tightening and constant cleaning. Believe the commercials: Invisalign, the clear, plastic aligners that fit over your teeth, perform the same duties as old-school braces sans the nerd factor. No mouth-poking metal. You only need to check in with your orthodontist every six to twelve weeks, plus you can take your Invisalign on and off to brush and floss properly — and you will, won't you? Some jaw misalignments or severe overcrowding can still only be tackled with traditional braces and headgear. Typically the same as the old clunkers: between $3,500 and $8,000.
A cavity A nasty, pinching shot and a confrontation with a drill. Waterlase, M.D., a dental laser that can work on gums, teeth, and bones. No more drill. Plus, this sucker actually kills the bacteria infecting your tooth, versus simply chiseling it out and hoping it's all gone. Pricey for dentists' offices. Same as the alternative treatment, which is generally covered by dental insurance.
Worn-looking, stained teeth Scraping away some of the tooth structure and placing a pricey porcelain veneer over your teeth. Microabrasion and composite veneers: your dentist polishes away stains with an acidic but noncorrosive scrub and covers the tooth with composite, a bonding material. Retain your tooth structure, get the same glossy smile, and, because you'll be able to complete the treatment in just one visit, you pay half as much to do so. Composite veneers aren't quite as durable as porcelain veneers, so there's a small risk that they'll break. They're also not a permanent fix, meaning you'll need to go back in a 5-8 years to get them redone. $200 a tooth — about half the cost of porcelain veneers!
A tooth infected from the pulp up The dreaded, excruciating root canal. A microendontic treatment, in which dentists use a surgical microscope that lets them more efficiently find the canal, locate the culprit infection, and treat accordingly. Your dentist can let you preserve more of your tooth structure, meaning less trauma to the tooth and an easier recovery. You still have to get a shot. And while those have gotten stronger and more efficient, a needle's still a needle. And it's pricier than the old method. Depending on what you need, between $600 and $1,200.
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