Digital Smile Design: The Process, Benefits, and Costs

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. The Process
  2. Benefits
  3. Aesthetic Dentistry vs Digital Smile Design
  4. Who Is a Candidate?
  5. Costs
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. References

People usually know how they want their smile to look after they have gone through a dental procedure. The outcome and treatment to repair their smile should meet those expectations. If doesn't, the procedure is irreversible or too expensive to fix. Either way, a poor result leaves a disappointed and sometimes angry patient.

One tool to enhance the chances of success is Digital Smile Design (DSD), a cosmetic procedure that dentists and orthodontists to design and change a patient's smile digitally before the dental procedure starts. The technology gives the patient a way to visualize what their smile will look like after the procedure, leaving no surprises.

Not only does DSD allow both the doctor and the patient to foresee a predictable result of the treatment but also is lets the patient have input into the final look.

The tool allows those patients who are skeptical about the procedure to understand potential solutions in repairing their smiles.

The Process of DSD

The first step in a DSD procedure is to find a dentist who will provide the service. If your dentist does not perform this procedure, the dental office should be able to refer you to a colleague or to another practice that does.

The process of DSD goes like this:

  • Preliminary consultation

  • Data gathering

  • Simulation

  • Review

  • Procedure

During the preliminary consultation, the DSD procedure will be discussed with your patient so it is understood what the treatment is expected to achieve. This consultation is necessary in order to learn your patient's expectations and requirements.

The second step in DSD is to collect structural and aesthetic information about your patient's teeth. With the use of high-quality digital photos and video of your patient, while they smile and speak, you make a short video. This video will provide the dentist with the data to evaluate size, tooth position, form and other details needed for the Smile Design Software.

The software used for DSD is a methodical tool. Using the data you've gathered, you will input it into the software, which will analyze it. The software will then design solutions according to what the patient requires. It will show potential outcomes in 3D form.

When looking at 3D representations, you can review them with the patient for approval or disapproval. You can then move on with the process when you've reached approval from the patient.

The last step in the process of DSD is to perform dental restoration. How much it will cost and the length of the process varies for each patient. Post-operative care should be discussed with the patient.

Benefits of DSD Treatment

One of the best advantages of Digital Smile Design is how interactive the process is with patients. With the use of the latest technology, the procedure is enhanced and explained so the patient sees and understands how the process will improve how they look.

Other benefits:

  • Motivation: When patients understand the process and can view ahead of time the possible (or likely) outcomes, much of their fear and anxiety about the procedure disappears. Absent fear, patients are more motivated to request treatment.

  • Predictability: Knowing ahead of the procedure what the outcome is makes the surgery more predictable. DSD serves as a blueprint for the dentist to follow and provides a predictable result.

  • Collaboration between patients and dentists: Dentists and their patients work together in collaboration to create a new smile. This process prevents misunderstandings and disappointments for patients. It also lets the dentist know exactly what to expect and how to complete the procedure.

Difference Between Typical Aesthetic Dentistry and Digital Smile Design

Insurance companies consider Digital Smile Design a cosmetic dental procedure. It should make your smile look better, but it is not medically necessary.

Typical aesthetic dentistry will fix some problems, such as broken or missing teeth. Aesthetic procedures are intended to improve looks as well, but this dental process also addresses the functional use of teeth.

Aesthetic dentistry is free of complimentary decoration, covers treatments that are durable and permanent, and are in harmony to produce full function of the teeth and mouth. Cosmetic dentistry will embrace some of these principles, but not all.

In some dentists' view, aesthetic dentistry is a more complete application than the procedures done in cosmetic dentistry.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Digital Smile Design?

One advantage of the DSD treatment is that almost every patient is a suitable candidate for it. When using high-quality digital videos and photos, dentists can understand the relationship between their patient's teeth, gums and lips. After a consultation and discussion about what is requested, the dentist can determine if the requested outcome is possible.

To be eligible for Digital Smile Design, candidates should first:

  • Address any tooth decay or gum disease issues. The early process might involve LANAP surgery.

  • Resolve any issues such as clenching or grinding of teeth. Either of these habits can shorten the life span of a new smile.

  • Ensure there is sufficient tooth enamel for veneers. You may also need have a whitening procedure done on your teeth.

  • Ensure they have no acute dental issues. Patients should have solid oral health and follow suggested oral hygiene habits.

What Does Digital Design Cost?

DSD procedures can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000—and in some cases more. The cost depends on where you go and which services you elect. If you receive a full mouth of implants and plastic surgery on your lips, this service would cost more than veneers.


A DSD procedure can cost from $1,000 to $50,000. The reason for the sizeable differences in costs is that you may require different procedures to attain the outcome of a beautiful smile.

DSD (Digital Smile Design) allows patients to see how their smiles will look before a dental procedure is started. Patients and dentists work as a team to create the optimal smile. This tool also allows for more open communication with the dental laboratory.

A digital smile makeover is possible with the use of software that has been in use for more than twenty years. It allows a cosmetic dentist to photograph your teeth, gums, and other facial features and then digitally enhance the image to show how your smile will look after a dental procedure.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.