If you are conscious of your teeth being discolored, chipped or crooked, then you may consider getting dental veneers to improve your smile. These thin teeth covers are attached to the front surface of your existing teeth. They are becoming increasingly popular in the US thanks to their affordability compared to other restorative options.
Both composite and porcelain veneers are available, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. We will explain more about the different types available later in this article. Whichever type you choose, the fitting process is quick and usually painless.
In this guide, we will provide answers to some common questions including:
- What are veneers?
- What types are available?
- Who can wear them?
- How are they fitted?
- Are they temporary or permanent?
- How much do veneers cost in the US?
- Do they look natural?
So keep reading to find out whether this could be the best way for you to get a smile you can show off with confidence!
Table of contents
- 1 What are dental veneers?
- 2 How do veneers work?
- 3 Types of veneer
- 4 How much are veneers?
- 5 Taking care of your new smile
- 6 Veneers vs. crowns vs. implants
- 7 Conclusion
What are dental veneers?
What does ‘veneer' mean? The word itself comes from the French ‘fournir', meaning ‘to furnish'. Just as you furnish your home to make it look nicer, you can furnish your teeth with veneers to improve their appearance.
One veneer definition from a medical dictionary is:
A plastic or porcelain coating bonded to the surface of a cosmetically imperfect tooth.
The most natural-looking and durable veneers are made from porcelain, but composite materials are more economical. They can be applied in cases where the aim is to improve the appearance of teeth rather than to repair damage from decay or trauma.
Often a small amount of tooth enamel must be removed to prepare the surface of the tooth and allow enough space for the dental veneer to be attached.
Veneers can be used on a single tooth or a larger number of teeth. A full set can be applied to all the front visible teeth if needed. They are made to measure and designed to match your existing tooth color so they look completely natural.
They last anywhere from 5-20 years, or more, depending on the type and material. All types are designed to be very strong so there should be no restrictions in terms of what you can eat or drink once they are fitted.
When are they used?
Did you know that 1/4 low-income adults in a survey avoid social events because they feel self-conscious about their smiles? Noone should have to feel bad about the aesthetics of their smile, and tooth veneers are just one of the many things people with poor oral health can do to gain back their confidence. Tooth veneers can achieve a number of results:
- Change tooth color: Sometimes teeth can have a dull or yellowish color, whether naturally or due to lifestyle choices (smoking, coffee, wine, etc.). Tooth discoloration can also be the result of medical treatments (for example repeated high dose antibiotics as a child) or trauma which kills the nerves inside. Traditional whitening treatments may deliver unsatisfactory results in some cases, or a patient's teeth may be too sensitive to proceed with whitening.
- Alter shape of teeth: Teeth can be naturally too small or too short, causing you to be self-conscious about smiling. This technique allows you to remodel the shape of your smile and efficiently even out differences.
- Repair chipped teeth: Many people have small chips in their teeth, which, although not medically problematic, they feel conscious of.
- Improve alignment: People who want to straighten teeth without braces may consider dental veneers. They can be used to remove gaps and correct misaligned or irregular teeth. However, this treatment is not recommended for younger patients since it removes so much healthy enamel and can't be reversed. In these cases, orthodontic treatment is preferable. Fortunately, the wide variety of braces available today means this needn't involve too much or any ‘metal mouth'.
- Repair damage caused by bruxism: Patients who have suffered from bruxism in the past may have ground the enamel off their teeth. Applying porcelain covers not only restores the cosmetic appearance but protects teeth from sensitivity to hot and cold.
- Strengthen teeth with weakened enamel: If you have sensitive teeth or translucent teeth, it may be from too thin enamel, which can also eventually lead to problems like decay.
How do veneers work?
Dentists will take a slightly different approach to treatment depending on your desired outcome and the material used. If a simple change in tooth color is what you require, the process is relatively straightforward and will be completed in two or three stages.
More complex projects such as correcting tooth alignment or covering a chipped tooth will require more planning and testing to ensure the solution is exactly as desired. The dentist will often create a dental mask in order to test different shapes and find a solution that the patient is happy with.
Porcelain veneers are created by a skilled lab technician, which takes time and adds to the cost. Composite veneers, on the other hand, are built up and shaped as they are applied by the dentist, so no lab work is required.
It is absolutely essential to go over everything with your dentist before you begin. He or she should give you full details about the steps involved and the end result. Although you will need to invest some time and money in the process, it is still less invasive, quicker, and less expensive than placing an implant or a crown (which you can read more about further down).
This video shows the many steps which go into fitting a single veneer. You can read a more detailed explanation below.
The fitting process
After your initial consultation where you can explain your problem and your expectations, your cosmetic dentist will take photos and may create a dental impression of your existing teeth. He might also perform an x-ray of the mouth to check the current tooth condition.
Your dentist will also check for problems such as gum disease which may need to be addressed before treatment commences.
If you are happy to go ahead with the proposed treatment, your dentist will begin preparatory work. This usually involves ‘trimming' a thin layer of enamel off the tooth or teeth to make them the right height and size for the veneers to attach to. With some types of veneer, no enamel removal is necessary.
This process shouldn't be painful as there are no nerves present in the enamel. However, your dentist may administer an anesthetic as a precaution.
If the ultimate goal is whiter teeth but you are not having all your teeth covered, you may need a dental cleaning and tooth whitening on surrounding teeth before treatment begins. If veneers are color-matched to whitened teeth, you'll have to keep up a regular teeth whitening schedule. Otherwise, the natural teeth will start to look yellow in comparison.
Composite veneers are often applied in one visit. The dentist roughens the tooth surface with acid and then puts a bonding agent (glue) on the teeth.
He then builds up the composite material in thin layers, gradually forming the tooth to the required shape. The paste is hardened at each stage using a special lamp.
Once both you and your dentist are happy with the look, color, and shape of the veneer, the surface is polished so it looks and feels like a natural tooth.
When it comes to porcelain veneers, the process takes longer. This is because each veneer must be individually crafted in a laboratory. Expect this to take anywhere from 1-3 weeks.
After your teeth are filed down, your dentist will take a dental impression using putty. This imprint is used to ensure the veneers are a perfect fit. This mold will also be used to create a mask, if needed, to plan the end result where significant changes are being made to the shape or size of teeth.
You might be given temporary veneers at this point to protect the prepared teeth while you await the permanent ones. Not all dentists offer a temporary option, though.
Once your porcelain veneers are ready, you will have your next appointment. Your dentist will thoroughly clean your teeth again and use an acid to roughen the surface of both the tooth and the veneer. A strong dental adhesive is used to secure the caps in place.
Fitting or creating veneers for teeth is a precise art and may take one or two hours depending on the number of teeth being treated. In some cases, this is done under general anesthetic – not because it is painful but because the patient may find it difficult to stay still for so long while they are awake.
Ideally, a rubber dam should be used to isolate the tooth/teeth being worked on. This keeps the surface dry, as any moisture may interfere with the bonding agent.
Veneers before and after
Some of the results achieved are quite astounding, often completely transforming a person's smile. You may hear the procedure referred to as a ‘smile makeover'. Before and after photos show how much a smile can alter a person's face.
During your initial consultation with any dental professional, be sure to ask to see before and after photos of their previous patients. This is a good way to check the quality of their work – especially in terms of how natural it looks.
In the video below you can see some more teeth veneers before and after:
Types of veneer
We have already described the fitting process for the two main types of veneer: composite and porcelain. But this procedure is just one thing to take into account when deciding which is right for you. Here are some of the other things you may want to consider.
Pros and cons of composites
Composites are significantly cheaper than porcelain teeth, but in return, the esthetic appearance can be less convincing. They aren't expected to last as long either, with a life span of up to 5 years. After this time, the material may start to chip away or stain and become unsightly.
Nevertheless, composites are a solution that can be very useful as an inexpensive alternative while saving up for porcelain. In this case, they may be referred to as ‘temporary veneers', even if worn for several months or years.
It may be possible to fit composites without removing any enamel from the healthy tooth – particularly in cases where the patient wants to fix a tooth that is too short or small. For many people, this is a big benefit because it means the treatment is fully reversible.
The end result is highly dependent on the skills of the cosmetic dentist, so be sure to check their previous work before going ahead.
Pros and cons of porcelain
By far the most durable type of tooth veneer is one which is made from a porcelain or ceramic material. Although wafer thin, these can be expected to last 10-20 years. Zirconia porcelain veneers can provide extra strength for teeth with slight damage but which don't require a crown.
Porcelain is stain-resistant and the translucency of the material means they closely resemble natural teeth.
The fact that they are hand-made in a laboratory means there is less onus on the dentist in the procedure. However, they must still be skilled at placing each piece correctly.
The biggest drawback to porcelain for most people is the cost, which is usually at least double that of composite. Some people are also put off by the idea of having enamel removed from healthy teeth, as these teeth can't be left uncovered again. You're therefore committing to a lifetime of veneers or some other teeth covering.
The table below summarizes the main differences between composite and porcelain veneers for teeth:
Choosing the right brand
There are some brands of veneer that offer specific benefits.
Lumineers veneers have an ultra-thin design which means they can improve the cosmetic appearance of existing teeth without the need for any filing. They are typically more expensive, but last for 20 years or more and can later be removed without any permanent damage to the teeth. Fitting takes place over two visits.
CEREC (CEamic REConstruction) veneers are not made by hand but are precisely cut using advanced computer technology based on scans of the patient's mouth.
These can be made by your dentist while you wait, meaning you can have custom-made teeth in a single visit. However, the appearance may not be as natural as with lab-made ones.
CEREC costs are similar to standard porcelain because although there are no lab fees to pay, the computer equipment is very expensive.
Technology is improving all the time so your dentist may have other solutions on offer as well.
How much are veneers?
Although budget is an important consideration, don't simply look at the cost when choosing a dentist to provide your treatment. You should search for a recognized professional with significant experience in this cosmetic procedure.
Ask your dentist which option they recommend but also ask about alternatives. Make sure you understand how long the tooth veneers will last – and what happens when they fail.
Veneer costs in the US
In the US you can expect to pay $250 – $1,200 for a composite veneer and $500 – $2,500 for a porcelain veneer. It's a big variance but, as with most cosmetic work, the cost depends on your dentist's experience and location, the materials used, and the preparation work needed.
Ways to save money on veneer costs
If you have private health insurance with a dental insurance plan you should check to see if your policy covers any cosmetic treatments. Usually, base-level plans do not, but more expensive plans often reimburse at least some of the cost.
An alternative way to get cheaper veneers is to consider traveling abroad to a country where cosmetic dentistry is more affordable.
Even once you take into account the cost of flights and accommodation, you may find that teeth veneers cost a lot less than back home. This is, therefore, a good way to make genuine savings without skimping on quality, especially if you combine the treatment with a well-deserved break.
Read more about traveling overseas for dental work in our complete guide to dental tourism.
If you only have minor cosmetic problems with your teeth, you may be a suitable candidate for teeth filing. This treatment simply removes small areas of enamel to make teeth appear more even.
Finally, you could consider snap-on veneers like instasmile, although you should first consider the risks of pursuing an option that doesn't involve dentists.
Taking care of your new smile
Your gums will be pushed back slightly during the fitting procedure so they may be sore for a few days. Once they return to normal you should carry out your regular oral care routine.
Don't worry about losing your dental veneers while brushing or flossing – they have been very firmly attached!
We recommend you follow these tips to keep your new teeth looking great:
- Use a quality toothbrush and change it regularly
- Floss every day and use a dental spray or mouthwash
- Visit your dentist regularly for tooth cleaning and tartar removal
- If you're fond of tea, coffee, and wine, be extra careful with your teeth cleaning – especially if you opted for composites which can stain more easily
- If you're a smoker – stop! Tobacco is another cause of tooth staining.
Caring for your teeth is not optional: just because you have an amazing new smile doesn’t mean you should neglect your dental hygiene.
On the contrary, you now have a reason to take even better care of your teeth than before. The lifespan of your teeth veneers is largely down to how well you care for them and your teeth.
Veneers vs. crowns vs. implants
While tooth veneers are a good solution for improving the cosmetic appearance of teeth, they are not a restorative solution for decayed or heavily damaged teeth.
A dental crown is often the best way to restore a tooth that is cracked or has lost a lot of enamel. This covers the whole tooth, rather than just the front, and acts as a protective layer against further damage.
Severely damaged teeth may have to be extracted, and in this case, a dental implant or bridge can be fitted to fill the gap. A dental implant acts as a root inserted into the jaw bone, and as such is the best way to avoid long-term bone loss from a missing tooth. However, it is also the most expensive prosthetic tooth option.
Whichever solution you are considering, your dentist will be happy to discuss the options with you. It could be easier than you realized to achieve a smile you're proud of.
If you want a smile makeover, dental veneers are one option. You'll need to choose between porcelain and composite veneers, and the decision will depend on your budget, the look you want to achieve, and how long you want the treatment to last.
Be aware that most types of veneers require some tooth enamel to be removed in preparation. This means your teeth are permanently changed and can't go back to how they were before.
If you're unsure about your decision, you may still be able to significantly approve the esthetics of your teeth with less invasive treatment such as braces, whitening and tooth filing. Here is one example of how a patient was able to achieve a smile she loved without getting the veneers she had originally planned.
Whatever you decide, we hope this guide has helped you make a more informed decision about which treatment is right for you.