Your smile can indicate a great deal about you, revealing whether you're happy, surprised, excited, or confident. In fact, 99 percent of people believe a smile is an important social asset, and nearly 75 percent say an unattractive smile can hurt a person's chances for career success, according to a study conducted on behalf of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).

Yet, millions of people are ashamed of their smiles, embarrassed by stained, chipped, or misshapen teeth. Now, modern advances in cosmetic dentistry have made it possible for more people to attain the pearly whites they've always dreamed about.

Here are some of the most common cosmetic dentistry procedures, according to the American Dental Association (ADA):

  • Whitening. Perhaps the most commonly recommended method to improve your smile, teeth whitening saw 300 percent growth from 1996 to 2000, the AACD reported. This procedure can erase stains on the teeth from cigarette smoke, tobacco, or red wine.
  • Bonding. This procedure is designed to repair chipped or broken teeth. A dental composite material resembling enamel is applied to the surface of a tooth, then sculpted into shape, contoured, and polishedmaking the crack or chip invisible.
  • Enamel Shaping. Often combined with bonding, this procedure improves the appearance of teeth by removing or contouring the enamel.
  • Veneers. The popularity of veneers continues to grow, demonstrated by a 250 percent increase in reported cases between 1996 and 2000, according to the AACD. With this procedure, plastic or porcelain shells are bonded to the surface of a tooth to replace chips, cracks, and spaces as well as improve the color of teeth.
  • Braces. Not just for teens, braces can help fix teeth that are crooked, are crowded, or simply don't meet properly. If braces are a viable option, your dentist will refer you to a specialist called an orthodontist.

Even subtle changes in your smile can make a dramatic difference in the way you look and feel about yourself. Talk to your dentist about the most suitable options, your expectations, and the costs involved. With the growing popularity of cosmetic dentistry and other elective procedures, many financial options are available to help make it possible for people to afford their dream of a beautiful smile.