What Do Cosmetic Dentists Do?

by | Jan 8, 2016

There has been a lot of talk lately within the Dental Industry of BC regarding the term: “Cosmetic Dentist” and whether or not it is a specialty (it is not) and whether or not Dentists are allowed to use this term in marketing (they are not). With all the confusion, we felt that the people this term affects the most – you, our patients and clients – may not get the full picture of what exactly the term refers to. So we’ve set out to try clarify a few things.

When people feel insecure about the appearance of their teeth, want their smile to look a certain way, or have a functional dental problem, they sometimes search for a “cosmetic dentist” to correct these issues as they may seem to all fall under one category. As mentioned at the outset, there is no professional designation for a “Cosmetic Dentist”, but rather a marketing term that many dentists have sought to attach themselves too. In reality, these dentists are just like any other dentist, except that they may choose to focus more on aesthetics.

How is what a cosmetic dentist does different than what a general or other dentist might do?

Unfortunately the term “Cosmetic dentists” have become synonymous with dentists that perform a variety of procedures such as dental whitening, straightening, and applying crowns and veneers, primarily with aesthetics in mind. This common misconception has been perpetuated by many dentists that have chosen to make aesthetic decisions over functional ones. Meaning, function of the teeth has taken second place to form, and this goes contrary to the fundamentals of their dental training – improving your dental health. The reality however is that certain pioneers in the field of what has come to be called “cosmetic dentistry” like Dr. Lowe, absolutely focuses on where form meets function. But because the form that follows function goes beyond the “necessities” of simply fixing the problem, much of the work these dentists do is completely elective, and most often not covered by dental insurance.

How are cosmetic dentists recognized?

In many regions, cosmetic dentistry is not formally recognized as a subgroup of the industry because all dentists should be able to do some basic cosmetic work. The American Dental Association (ADA) of which Dr. Lowe is a member, for example, does not acknowledge it as a separate specialty area. Even so, dentists that advertise their ability to perform cosmetic procedures generally still have to have completed formal training, which means going to dental school, passing certification exams, and getting a license. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the world’s largest organization for cosmetic dentists, also provides a certification, but ADA does not yet recognize it. Dr. Lowe is the editor of the American Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Does insurance cover what cosmetic dentists do?

Depending on what a person needs, his insurance company might or might not cover the costs of a cosmetic dentist’s work. A company might cover fixing a chipped tooth, for example, if the chip is resulting in decay and loss of dental function. Teeth whitening, which is one of the most common procedures, often isn’t included in coverage because it doesn’t generally help the teeth work better or provide any sort of protection to them.

One of the primary issues with cosmetic dentistry is “what does that mean”? Everything from a simple procedure like whitening your teeth (a procedure that costs a couple hundred dollars), to full mouth rehabilitation (procedures that may cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars) all seem to be classified under cosmetic dentistry. So while certain procedures may be covered partially, or completely depending on your insurance, many are not. The only way we could know is to sit down and have a look together.

How do I become a cosmetic dentist?

If someone is considering focusing their dental practice on cosmetic dentistry we encourage you to speak with Dr. Lowe. He routinely mentors great dentists across BC’s lower mainland. Dr. Lowe has also taught at UBC and other institutions, and is a sought after guest speaker at cosmetic dentistry events around the world.

If you’re just getting started out: you may consider starting your path with a 4-year undergraduate degree, which preferably is in the sciences, and which includes courses such as biology and physiology. Following the completion of a bachelor’s degree, you may apply to dental school, which typically takes another four years. Some people apply and are accepted to dental school before they finish their bachelor’s degree, essentially dual enrolling once they have all the necessary prerequisite courses complete, but not everyone can handle this heavy workload. If you want to specialize in prosthodontics or orthodontics, you’ll likely need an additional two to four years of postgraduate training, which typically includes completion of a residency program. Throughout your training and into your practice, you should develop your organizational, leadership, problem solving and communication skills, as you will need to keep patient information and appointments straight and interact with both clients and staff regularly. Seek out a mentor with a good reputation and seek to learn all you can under their tutelage.


The American Dental Association doesn’t recognize cosmetic dentistry as a specialty because so many procedures within the current specialty areas can change the look of teeth–that is, all dentistry includes some degree of aesthetic work. Even so, pioneers of the concept stand by the skills they have learned along the way. Call it what you want: Aesthetic, Cosmetic, Surgical Dentistry, dentists should always be concerned with how their patients look and feel. They should all be concerned with the fundamental difference a great smile can make in the life of those who put their trust in them. All dentistry should look good, and function properly. Form, follows function, and when that focus is lost, things go horribly wrong. Being a dentist that focuses on doing things properly requires a significant commitment in terms of education – both learned and shared, but it’s our patients that make it all worth it.

Did you know…?

As of 2013, AACD’s membership included dentists from 70 countries around the world and more than 6,000 professionals.