Tooth contouring. Tooth reshaping. Tooth filing. Tooth slenderizing.

These are a few of the names for a procedure that’s done to slightly reduce the size of a tooth to improve its appearance or the way it fits inside your mouth. Many people also refer to this process as “tooth shaving.”

The technical name for this process is odontoplasty or enameloplasty, when a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to reshape it. You may also hear it called occlusal equilibration.

This process can be done for cosmetic reasons, such as to smooth out the appearance of a tooth that’s misshapen or chipped. Dentists can remove the scalloped edges of teeth known as mamelons to create a more even tooth line.

A dentist may also suggest tooth shaving for medical reasons, including improving your bite or preparing a damaged tooth for a crown.

After carefully examining your teeth, jaw, and dental X-rays, a dentist may decide that one or more of your teeth could benefit from reshaping or filing. There are a number of reasons why.

Reshaping damaged teeth

A small chip in your tooth may not seem like a big deal, but you may notice every single time you look in the mirror. Shaving that tooth or filing it down to create a more even edge can do wonders in terms of improving your smile.

Creating more room in the mouth

You may have a small jaw or big teeth. Or your teeth may just be crowded very closely together in your mouth. Crowded teeth can cause a number of problems, including pain in your jaw, misalignment, and crooked teeth. Filing down some of those teeth can free up just enough space to reduce the crowding — and any problems it’s causing.

When adding a crown

A crown is a cap that fits over a damaged tooth or a tooth with a root canal. Typically, a dentist will need to trim your tooth down (known as preparing the tooth) before applying the crown. In this circumstance, the crown will cover the tooth, so you won’t see any evidence of the actual shaving or filing process.

Veneer teeth shaving

A veneer is similar to a crown in that it covers damage to a tooth. However, a veneer typically only covers the front of a tooth.

Sometimes, a dentist may need to gently file away a bit of your tooth in preparation for a veneer, but it’s much less reduction than with a crown. It’s also much less common than it is with a crown. A dentist may also need to shave or file away some of the teeth opposite the veneer, just to make sure they match up correctly.

In addition to covering damaged teeth, veneers can be used to change the size, color, length, and shape of your teeth, as well as close gaps.

Teeth shaving for braces

Orthodontics are designed to address issues like crowded or misaligned teeth. Braces and retainers can help move teeth into better positions that can alleviate crowding or misplacement. However, sometimes an orthodontist may need to shave a little bit off a tooth or two as part of the process.

Adjusting your bite

Open your mouth. Now close your mouth so that your upper teeth rest on your lower teeth. Do they match up correctly? If not, a dentist may suggest shaving or contouring any teeth that prevent them from resting easily against each other.

For example, your canine teeth may be a little too long, and that may affect your bite. Teeth that are misaligned can affect your bite. As a result, they can cause a number of problems, ranging from pain in your jaw muscle to loose teeth and headaches.

Research suggests that fixing the problem can reduce or eliminate problems like tooth sensitivity and pain. It can allow your jaw to close properly.

The short answer is “no.” Odontoplasty shouldn’t hurt. The dentist is only removing a bit of the surface enamel of your tooth and not touching the pulp or the root of the tooth. You shouldn’t even need an anesthetic to have a small bit of enamel removed.

Generally speaking, this type of dental procedure isn’t considered very risky. In fact, tooth contouring is often considered a conservative procedure.

However, some research suggests that it may be riskier performing odontoplasty on an already fragile tooth. If a dentist has to reshape a broken or damaged tooth to prepare it for a crown, it’s possible to use materials to build up the tooth so it can support the crown.

As with any dental or orthodontic procedure, the cost will vary based on factors like where you live and the experience of the dentist. Minor reshaping of one tooth can range from $50 to $300.

The cost of occlusal equilibration, which involves reshaping multiple teeth and balancing your bite, can range from $650 to $1,500, which should also include follow-up care.

Talk to a dentist if you’re concerned about the cost. It’s possible that your dental insurance may cover part of it. Your coverage may depend on the medical reason for having the procedure done.

If you’ve ever fretted over a tooth with a bit of a jagged edge or a chip, especially if it’s in a highly visible spot, you may be a candidate for tooth contouring.

If you have trouble with your bite, you may also want to consider tooth contouring, reshaping, or equilibration. If your teeth don’t fit together properly, it can cause pain in your jaw and head, even possibly leading to a condition in a joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull that’s called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

A quick journey through YouTube will turn up countless videos with people claiming they’ve successfully shaved their own teeth at home with a nail file or sandpaper. You might be tempted to try it, especially if you just have a small chip or sharp edge that you want to address.

But just because you could do this doesn’t mean you should do it. Experts say that you see a dentist instead. If you try to file or shave your teeth at home, you can damage the enamel on your teeth, which can lead to a whole host of other problems.

You can’t regrow tooth enamel, so any damage is irreversible. You might even wind up needing a veneer or crown if the damage is severe enough.

The process of shaving down a tooth can have a lot of benefits. It can make your smile appear more even, and also improve the health of your mouth and alleviate pain in your head and neck. Talk to a dentist if you think this process could help you so you can explore your options.