Overview of filing down teeth

Filing down teeth, also known as enamel shaping, is a procedure that involves reshaping teeth by removing small amounts of enamel. It is commonly used for cosmetic reasons, such as fixing uneven, chipped, or protruding teeth. Filing down teeth can alter the length, shape, and overall appearance of teeth.

The process involves using a dental tool called a file to gradually remove thin layers of enamel from the teeth. A coarse file is first used to quickly remove larger amounts of enamel, followed by a fine file to smooth and polish the teeth. Most often, filing is done by hand, but air-abrasion tools may also be used.

Filing teeth is an irreversible procedure because enamel does not grow back once it has been removed. However, it is considered a relatively non-invasive and conservative cosmetic treatment. Veneers or crowns involve removing even more tooth structure compared to filing.

When filing teeth may be recommended

There are several situations where a dentist may recommend filing down teeth:

  • Fixing uneven teeth: Filing can remove extra enamel from teeth that are longer or more protruded than adjacent teeth. This levels out the gumline.
  • Reshaping teeth: Subtle changes to the length, shape, or contours of teeth can be made through filing. For example, filing can shorten and round out pointed teeth.
  • Preventing damage to teeth: Filing may be done to smooth down sharp edges or ridges to prevent cheek biting or injury to the tongue.
  • Preparing for dental work: Teeth may need to be filed to create room for placing veneers, crowns, braces, or other dental work.
  • Reducing teeth size: In some cases, filing can slim down teeth that are too wide, bulky, or square in shape.

Considerations for filing down large teeth

When contemplating filing down particularly large, prominent teeth, there are several factors to consider:

  • Amount of enamel: Large teeth have a greater enamel thickness. This provides more room to safely file down the teeth without getting too close to the pulp.
  • Effect on appearance: Since large teeth dominate the appearance of one’s smile, filing them can significantly impact aesthetics and facial proportions.
  • Tooth sensitivity: Aggressively filing teeth may increase sensitivity due to the removal of protective enamel layers. Sensitivity may also occur if filing exposes dentin tubules.
  • Neighboring teeth: When filing very large front teeth, the neighboring teeth may appear too small in proportion. The adjacent teeth may also need some enamel reduction.
  • Gum recession: Removing substantial enamel from very large teeth increases the chances of receded gums due to the teeth appearing longer.
  • Jaw alignment issues: In some cases, extremely large teeth are a sign of improper jaw development and growth. This may need to be addressed instead of merely filing down the teeth.
  • Repeated procedures: Due to normal wearing of the teeth, filing may need to be repeated every 5-10 years if substantial enamel is removed initially.
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Procedures for filing teeth

Procedures for filing teeth

The process of filing teeth involves a few key steps:

Impressions and planning

The dentist will take impressions of the teeth and create models. These are used for careful treatment planning and to determine the desired shape and length of the final result. The amount of enamel that requires removal is mapped out.


Most often, local anesthesia is administered to numb the area before filing. This helps prevent sensitivity and discomfort while the enamel layers are being removed.

Filing and reshaping

Using a coarse paddle-shaped dental file, the dentist methodically removes enamel from the targeted teeth. Filing motion is light and involves sweeping strokes. Too much pressure can damage teeth and remove too much enamel.

Smoothing and finishing

Once teeth are shaped appropriately, finer grit files and abrasive strips are used to smooth teeth and round sharp edges. Fluoride gel may be applied to help strengthen enamel.


The teeth’s surface is polished using a rubber cup, paste, and fine abrasives. This removes any small scratches and creates a nice gloss.

Follow-up appointments

Additional minor refinements may be needed after the teeth have settled into their new shape. Teeth may also shift slightly as they adjust to the changes.

Aftercare and results

Following the filing procedure, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Sensitivity: Due to enamel removal, teeth may be more sensitive to hot and cold. This typically improves within a few weeks.
  • Avoiding hard foods: Hard, crunchy, and sticky foods should be avoided initially to prevent damage to filed teeth.
  • Oral hygiene: Brush and floss thoroughly to prevent cavities or plaque buildup in smoother areas.
  • Aesthetic results: Effects of filing down and reshaping teeth can be immediately seen. Final shape and appearance improve over the next few weeks.
  • Duration: With proper oral hygiene, results of filing teeth can last for years. However, some minor reshaping may be needed down the road.

Overall, when performed by an experienced dentist, filing teeth is a relatively safe and effective way to improve the look of teeth. Taking proper precautions and aftercare helps maintain the results.

Potential risks and complications

While relatively non-invasive, there are some potential risks with filing teeth that should be considered:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Damage to pulp if too much enamel is removed
  • Exposed dentin tubules leading to sensitivity
  • Increased chances of tooth decay or cracks
  • Gum recession over time
  • Aesthetic issues if too much length is reduced
  • Need for replacement dental work eventually
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Tips for deciding whether to file large teeth

Tips for deciding whether to file large teeth

If you have noticeably large teeth, here are some tips that may help in deciding if filing or reshaping them is right for you:

  • Consult an expert – Get an evaluation from a cosmetic dentist who can assess if your specific case is suitable for enamel reduction.
  • Consider other options – In some cases, dental bonding, veneers, or orthodontics may be better options than filing. Discuss pros and cons with your dentist.
  • View simulations – With digital smile simulations, you’ll be able to preview potential outcomes and help guide the treatment plan.
  • Think carefully – Enamel removal is irreversible, so take time to think about the long term effects on your smile.
  • Focus on overall facial proportions – Evaluate how large teeth fit with your overall facial features and structure before reshaping.
  • Start small – Ask your dentist to take a minimal approach at first for subtle changes, rather than aggressive filing.
  • Prepare for sensitivity – Know that there may be some temporary sensitivity from enamel removal. Proper home care can alleviate this.
  • Commit to retention – Be ready to commit to wearing retainers or essix appliances at night to maintain the position of filed teeth.

Thoughtfully considering the pros and cons will help determine if filing is the right option for improving the appearance of large teeth.

Comparison of filing vs. dental veneers

For some cases of large teeth, veneers may be an alternative to filing and enamel removal. Here is an overview of how veneers compare:

Filing Dental Veneers
Removes natural tooth structure Does not remove tooth enamel
Generally requires local anesthesia Usually done without anesthesia
Results are immediate Requires time for laboratory fabrication
Lower cost, around $100-$200 per tooth Higher cost, $900-$2500 per veneer
Usually does not require temporary veneers Temporary veneers placed while awaiting permanent ones
Repeating filing may be needed over time Veneers may last 10-15 years before needing replacement
Not reversible, enamel is permanently removed Minimally invasive or no-prep options allow reversal
Smooths enamel and removes flaws Can hide deep stains, chips, gaps and misalignments

Frequently Asked Questions

How much enamel is removed when filing teeth?

On average, filing teeth removes 0.3mm to 0.6mm of enamel thickness. Very minimal filing may only reduce enamel by 0.1mm to slightly alter shape. More aggressive filing for extensive reshaping can remove 1mm or more of enamel.

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Does filing teeth hurt?

Patients are given local anesthesia before the filing procedure, so there is no pain felt during the enamel removal. Some mild to moderate sensitivity may be felt in the days following as the numbness wears off. This typically diminishes within a few weeks.

Is teeth filing permanent?

Enamel removal is an irreversible process, so filing teeth is considered a permanent procedure. The enamel does not grow back. However, some minor touch up filing may be needed down the road if teeth shift or as they naturally wear down.

How long does it take to file down teeth?

It generally takes 1-2 hours to file and reshape the enamel on the upper and lower front 6-8 teeth. If only a few teeth require minor reshaping, it may take 30 minutes to an hour. More complex cases involving many teeth can take several appointments of 2 hours each.

Can you file down porcelain veneers?

Shell-like porcelain veneers cannot be filed down since they are made of ceramic material, not natural enamel. However, the dentist can gently grind or slice small sections off the veneer to make adjustments after they are bonded to teeth. Veneers can be made thinner when fabricated.


Filing or reshaping teeth through controlled enamel reduction is a common and relatively non-invasive way to alter the shape, size, and appearance of teeth. When performed properly and judiciously by a trained dentist, it can provide fast cosmetic improvements. However, there are risks involved when removing irreplaceable enamel layers, so the benefits and drawbacks should be carefully weighed. Patients with large teeth that dominate their smile may benefit from conservative filing to create more proportionate facial aesthetics. Other options like orthodontics or veneers should also be explored before proceeding with irreversible enamel removal. With thoughtful planning and care, filing teeth can help improve smiles.

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