What are Dental Veneers?
Dental veneers are thin, customized shells of tooth-colored materials. They fit over the front of teeth to improve their appearance and protect them from damage. The shells bond to your teeth and change their length, size, color, shape, and function. Veneers are a cosmetic dental treatment because they are elective and placed for aesthetic reasons.
In a survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), veneers were the third most common dental treatment among patients in 2013 (41 percent). Survey participants could select as many procedures as applicable:
“Veneers make up about 26 percent of cosmetic procedures performed by dentists.”
“Veneers make up about 26 percent of cosmetic procedures performed by dentists.”
Colors and Shades of Dental Veneers
Most patients opt for veneers to improve their appearance, but they also have restorative functions and protect the tooth’s surface from damage. They are a great option for patients who have tooth gaps, chips, or stains.
The procedure is relatively quick and minimally invasive. Depending on your tooth color and desired outcome, the shells are available in many different shades.
Veneers vs Other Dental Treatments
Veneers: A veneer bonds to the front surface of a tooth. They are less invasive, thinner, and more brittle than crowns, which means they have a higher risk of fracture or dislodgement. They improve a patient’s appearance by changing the shape and color of teeth.
Crowns: A crown covers the entire tooth. It is thicker than a veneer and requires more removal of enamel before placement. They are stronger than a veneer and are used for restorative purposes, such as restoring severely decayed or broken teeth.
Benefits of Veneers: Veneers are a long-lasting restoration, while at-home or professional teeth whitening is just a temporary treatment. Since everyone has different diets, lifestyles, and habits, such as smoking, there is no way to predict how long whitening will last. On the other hand, a veneer last between 5 and 15 years, depending on the type. Porcelain veneers, in particular, resist staining from coffee, wine, and smoking.
Benefits of Whitening: Professional teeth whitening is a cheaper, less invasive option than veneers. Both veneers and whitening are completely safe. However, once a dentist places a permanent veneer over your tooth, it cannot be removed.
Benefits of Veneers: When patients have large gaps between their teeth or overcrowding, veneers are able to resolve the issues within a few office visits. Orthodontic treatment, such as braces or clear aligners, can take up to 18 months to fully complete, while aligners take about 20 weeks. You must also visit the office more often for check-ups while receiving orthodontic treatment.
Benefits of Orthodontics: While orthodontic treatment takes longer, it is sometimes the best option for patients, especially children. This is because braces reposition the jaw, fix a patient’s bite, and correct other jaw issues. Veneers are typically used for cosmetic reasons.
Braces, in particular, are less expensive than dental veneers. For example, most veneers are at least $1000 per tooth, and people typically get 6 to 8 veneers. Invisalign ranges from $3500-6000, so it’s actually less expensive than a full set of veneers.
Medical and Cosmetic Reasons for Veneers
Whether a patient is seeking treatment to restore their smile due to a medical condition, for cosmetic reasons, or both, there are many reasons why dental veneers are commonly chosen over other procedures. Common reasons for veneer placement include:
- Patients who are unhappy with the length, color, or size of their teeth.
- Chipped, cracked, or broken teeth typically caused by an injury.
- Worn down teeth caused by excessive bruxism (teeth grinding), erosion, and other habits.
- Excessive consumption of water too high in fluoride, which can cause white spots or streaks on the teeth.
- Teeth stains and discoloration from drugs or tetracycline, which is an antibiotic that treats bacterial infections such as UTI’s, acne, gonorrhea, and others. Coffee, wine, fruit, and other dark foods or liquids can also cause stains.
- Large resin fillings resulting in discolored teeth.
- After root canal treatment, a crown may be placed on a back tooth to protect it from fracturing. Front teeth with root canals do not require crowns unless they have extensive decay. In some cases, root canal therapy can lead to tooth discoloration later on. A dental veneer or other restorative material may be used to cover the discoloration. They can also be placed on premolars, but they are very rarely placed on first molars.
Types of Dental Veneers
There are two common types of materials used to create a dental veneer, including:
Porcelain is the most common material used for veneers. They are tooth-colored, versatile, completely custom, and last 10 to 15 years. Porcelain veneers are made of ceramic materials and resist stains better than composite veneers.
Advantages: When porcelain veneers were introduced, the primary advantage was the conservative and minimally invasive nature of the procedure. This is because there is minimal preparation needed for successful shell placement. This is not the case for full restorative procedures, such as dental crowns, which is why veneers are another popular option.
Porcelain Veneers Procedure: Before porcelain veneers are placed, a dentist color corrects and shapes the remaining healthy tooth structure by 0.5-mm or greater. Then they replace the natural tooth with a bonding agent and a porcelain shell. Opaques may be used if the tooth has very dark discolorations. There are over 15 different shades of porcelain for a patient to choose from.
Composite resin veneers are a cosmetic alternative to porcelain veneers. They are made of the same material used for tooth-colored cavity fillings.
Advantages: Composite veneers are slightly cheaper than porcelain veneers. They are usually fabricated quickly, which means they are a same-day treatment option. Direct composite veneers (composite bonding) are sculpted on the teeth rather than in a dental laboratory.
Composite Resin Procedure: Similar to porcelain veneers, composites require teeth recontouring before placement. Composite veneers can be placed directly on uncut enamel. They typically last 5 to 7 years, versus up to 15 years for porcelain veneers. Although, composite is more conservative than porcelain. For example, when composite chips, the chipped area can be repaired. Although, when porcelain chips, the entire veneer has to be replaced.
Other, Less Common Types of Veneers
Palatal Veneers (Palatal Onlays)
Onlays are typically used to restore posterior teeth. Although, palatal veneers are a special type of onlay used to restore anterior teeth. Causes of palatal damage to anterior teeth include deep bite, bruxism, and dental erosion. Erosion can be caused by chronic vomiting, such as bulimia, and severe acid reflux. Palatal onlays are a great solution to restore only the compromised part, leaving the rest of the teeth untouched.
Lumineers are a brand of veneers that are ultra-thin (0.2 mm) and translucent. They replicate the shape and color of natural tooth enamel, even more so than porcelain veneers. In fact, lumineers are so thin that they do not require tooth reduction or recontouring. Lastly, they can last for over 20 years, versus 10 to 15 years for porcelain veneers. Although, lumineers have a greater chance of chipping than traditional veneers, often resulting in a shorter lifespan.
Removable Veneers (Non-Permanent)
Removable veneers (snap-on) are less invasive, non-permanent, and cost less than traditional veneers. Upper and lower molds are made of a patient’s teeth, similar to clear aligners, and can be removed at any time. Even though composite and porcelain veneers have a long life-span, they aren’t guaranteed to last 5 to 15 years. Permanent veneers are irreversible because dentists have to remove part of the tooth’s enamel. Removable veneers do not require tooth reduction.
Side Effects & Risks
Traditional veneers, such as porcelain and composite, are great options for those looking to improve their smile quickly, safely, and effectively. Although, just as with any dental procedure, there are risks. The risks are not life-threatening, and with proper care, they can be avoided. Common conditions and side effects may include:
- Tooth Sensitivity – tooth sensitivity is common during the first 3 weeks after veneer placement. If sensitivity to cool or hot liquids lasts longer than 3 to 6 months, a more serious problem may be present. For example, a tooth’s nerve may have been irreversibly inflamed during the procedure, causing an infection. Contact your dentist for treatment options if sensitivity lasts too long.
- Dental Damage – there is also a risk of dentin damage after veneer placement, but it is less common. During the enamel removal process, it is possible for the underlying dentin to get damaged. A poorly fitted veneer can also change the alignment of a patient’s bite, resulting in tooth sensitivity, bruxism, or jaw pain.
- Future Veneer Replacement – people with untreated dental conditions before veneer placement, such as enamel erosion, are more at risk of veneer failure. Alternative restorations, including crowns or cosmetic bonding, are often recommended to replace a veneer.
Treatment Cost & Insurance
The cost of veneers depends on the chosen type and how many are placed. Since veneers are cosmetic in nature, they are never covered by insurance. Although, there may be some exceptions if a veneer is needed because of an injury.
$925-$2500 (per tooth)
$250-$1500 (per tooth)
$470-$600 (for both upper and lower teeth impressions)
$800-$2000 (per tooth)
$650-$1200 (per tooth)