What Are Veneers?

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What Are Dental Veneers & How Do They Work?

Veneers are thin shells that fit over the front of teeth to improve their appearance, protect them from damage, and create a beautiful smile. The tooth-colored 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. They are also known as a "smile makeover."

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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:

graph showing percentage of dental procedures including crowns, bodning, veneers, whitening, and implants

Veneers make up about 26 percent of cosmetic procedures performed by dentists.

Colors and Shades of 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.

Why Do People Get 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 people get dental veneers:

  • 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 a root canal, a crown may be placed on the tooth to protect it from fracturing. In some cases, root canal treatment can lead to tooth discoloration over time. A veneer or other restorative material may be placed to cover the discoloration. Veneers can also be placed on premolars, but they are rarely placed on first molars.

Types of Veneers

There are two common types of materials used to create a dental veneer, including:

Porcelain Veneers

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.

tooth in lower jaw with dental veneer

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.

Before the porcelain veneer procedure, your dentist will color correct and shape 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 Veneers

Composite resin veneers are a cosmetic alternative to porcelain veneers. They are made of the same material used for tooth-colored cavity fillings.

teeth with veneer

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.

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.

Composite is more conservative than porcelain. When composite chips, the chipped area can be repaired. When porcelain chips, the entire veneer has to be replaced.

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

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.

Lumineers are so thin that they do not require tooth reduction or recontouring. They can last for over 20 years, versus 10 to 15 years for porcelain veneers. However, they 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, also called temporary veneers, are irreversible because dentists have to remove part of the tooth’s enamel. Removable veneers do not require tooth reduction.

64 percent of patients typically receive four or more veneers at once.

Side Effects & Risks of Veneers

Traditional veneers, such as porcelain and composite, are great options for those looking to improve their smile quickly, safely, and effectively.

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 of veneers 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.
  • Tooth 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.

How Much Do Veneers Cost?

The cost of veneers depends on the type and how many you get:

Porcelain Veneers — $925-$2500 (per tooth)
Composite Veneers — $250-$1500 (per tooth)
Removable Veneers — $470-$600 (for both upper and lower teeth impressions)
Lumineers — $800-$2000 (per tooth)
Palatal Onlays — $650-$1200 (per tooth)

Dental Veneers vs. Other Dental Treatments

Dental Crowns

Benefits of 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.

Benefits of 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.

Teeth Whitening

Benefits of Veneers: Veneers are long-lasting restorations, 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 lasts between 5 and 15 years, depending on the type. Porcelain veneers, in particular, resist staining from coffee, wine, and smoking.

Benefits of Teeth Whitening: Professional teeth whitening is a cheaper, less invasive option than veneers. Both veneers and whitening are completely safe. Veneers are permanent and cannot be removed after placement.

Orthodontic Treatment

Benefits of Veneers: When patients have large gaps between their teeth or overcrowding, veneers 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 Orthodontic Treatment: 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 are less expensive than dental veneers. Most veneers are at least $1,000 per tooth, and people typically get six to eight veneers. Invisalign ranges from $3,500-6,000, so treatment is less expensive than a full set of veneers.

Common Questions & Concerns

Does insurance cover veneers?

Since veneers are cosmetic, they are never covered by insurance. There may be an exception if a veneer is needed because of an injury.

Are veneers permanent?

Yes, most types of veneers are permanent, including composite and porcelain veneers. Before placement, your dentist has to shave down some of your natural tooth structure. Lumineers, however, are not permanent. They do not require tooth reduction or recontouring because they are very thin. Lumineers are more prone to fractures and chips, though.

Are veneers safe?

As long as you take care of them, veneers are safe and not bad for your teeth. It is also rare for veneers to crack or break.

Do veneers hurt?

It is rare for veneers to cause pain and discomfort during and after the procedure is complete. This is because the procedure is minimally-invasive and only requires removing a small amount of tooth enamel.

Do veneers stain?

Just like natural teeth, some types of veneers can stain over time. However, most veneers are made out of stain-resistant materials. So if you take care of them, they will stay white for many years.

How long do veneers last?

There are two essential factors that determine how long veneers will last. After they are placed, you should begin taking care of them like normal teeth. This includes practicing optimal oral health at home (brushing and flossing regularly) and visiting your dentist for teeth cleanings every six months.

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Resources

Blue Ocean Publishing Group. The Million Dollar Smile, Changing Lives with Cosmetic Dentistry. 2018.

Freedman, George A. Contemporary Esthetic Dentistry. Elsevier, 2012.

Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

Updated on: October 20, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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