What Are Porcelain Veneers?
Modern porcelain veneers are durable, tooth-shaped, natural-looking dental prosthetics that are bonded to the surfaces of the front teeth to mask cosmetic imperfections. They can be used to close gaps, elongate the teeth, cover stains and discoloration, and make the teeth appear uniform and straight.
Are You a Candidate for Porcelain Veneers?
While porcelain veneers are one of the most effective cosmetic dentistry treatments available, they aren't necessarily for everyone. It is important that you meet with a qualified cosmetic dentist to determine if you are an ideal candidate for porcelain veneers placement. During your initial consultation, the dentist will examine your teeth, and inquire regarding your medical history, as well as discuss your cosmetic goals. The dentist will also discuss the entire procedure from start to finish so you can make an informed decision as to whether the treatment is right for you. The ideal candidate for porcelain veneers includes people who have:
Porcelain veneers are thin shells customized to fit perfectly over the teeth to hide any visible cosmetic imperfections. Individuals who want to correct chipped, cracked, broken, misaligned, discolored, or overcrowded teeth are candidates for the treatment. Veneers are designed to match the look and feel of natural tooth enamel, therefore giving patients a natural-looking bright, stunning smile.
Good Dental Health
Porcelain veneers patients should have relatively healthy teeth and gums. Individuals with pre-existing dental conditions, such as gingivitis, gum disease, or serious tooth decay probably won't be considered for the treatment. Additionally, anyone with severely misaligned teeth or major tooth damage may require more extensive dental work to be done. In some cases, porcelain veneers can be placed after other, more serious, oral health issues are addressed first. The dentist will evaluate your specific case and recommend the best course of treatment to give you a beautiful, healthy smile.
Ideal porcelain veneers candidates have realistic expectations of what can be achieved with porcelain veneers. They should be fully informed about what to expect in the placement process of porcelain veneers, including the risks, benefits, and cost of porcelain veneers. Patients should also have realistic aesthetic goals, since, although porcelain veneers can cover chips, stains, minor misalignment, misshaped teeth, and gaps between the teeth, more complex problems may require an alternative treatment.
A Desire for A Whole New Look
Patients should be prepared for a short adjustment period once the permanent veneers have been placed. As porcelain veneers can completely transform the look and feel of a person's smile, candidates may need some time to get used to eating and speaking with the veneers. Additionally, a smile makeover can majorly alter a person's appearance, which may take some getting used to.
Visit the DocShop gallery to view porcelain veneers before and after photos.
Photo credit: Ruth E. Bailey D.D.S.
Knowledge of All Cosmetic Options
An ideal porcelain veneers candidate is aware of the alternatives to porcelain veneers and has fully considered the risks and benefits of all options. Braces, Invisalign®, and dental bonding can also effectively correct cosmetic dental flaws, while teeth whitening and other aesthetic treatments can help dramatically enhance a smile. An experienced cosmetic dentist will inform patients of all of their options, so they can make an informed decision which is best for their needs.
Placing Porcelain Veneers
The placement process for porcelain veneers is relatively simple. Depending on your dentist, the procedure can be completed in just one or two dental appointments. The procedure can be broken down into four basic steps:
Preparing the Tooth
In order to secure a porcelain veneer to a tooth, room must first be made so that the veneer can fit flush with surrounding teeth. Additionally, the surface of the tooth must be prepared so that it provides a suitable bonding surface for dental cement. To prepare the tooth, roughly one-half millimeter of dental enamel is removed from the tooth's surface. As the veneer is roughly the thickness of an egg shell, typically this is all that's required to create sufficient space for the dental prosthetic. During this process, local anesthetic is often applied to aid in comfort.
Taking an Impression
Once the tooth has been prepared, an impression must be made. From this impression, your dental veneer will be designed and fabricated. There are two types of impressions that can be taken:
- Traditional Impression - A traditional impression involves the use of dental putty. The patient bites down into a malleable putty or clay-like material. His or her tooth structure is preserved in the putty, from which a mold can be made. Using this mold, dental laboratory technicians, working in conjunction with your dentist, can complete the fabrication of your porcelain veneer.
- Digital Impression - In some cases, a digital impression may be taken. With a digital impression, a 3D scan of the tooth structure is conducted. This data is then transferred to a computer where the resulting image can be manipulated and a veneer can be designed for fabrication.
Designing and Fabricating the Veneer
To design your veneer, your dentist will use the impression taken of your teeth to create a prosthetic that fits flush, addresses your cosmetic concerns, and complements surrounding teeth. A porcelain veneer acts as a façade to mask minor cosmetic imperfections such as cracks and chips, and as such, its cosmetic appearance is extremely important. Working with a dentist who has an extensive background in cosmetic dentistry will likely yield best results.
When it comes time to fabricate the dental prosthetic, there are two options that can be employed. In many cases, dentists offer one or the other, not both. If you have a preference, it is best to speak with a dentist prior to your initial appointment to see which option he or she offers. Those options are as follows:
- Traditional Fabrication - In most cases, porcelain veneers (and other dental prosthetics) are fabricated in a dental laboratory. Some dentists operate their own dental laboratory while others refer the fabrication of their patients' prosthetics out to third-party dental laboratories. As these laboratories specialize in the fabrication of dental prosthetics, the quality of the work can be expected to be of the highest standard. However, it should be noted that in most cases, anywhere from two to three weeks may be required for your dental prosthetic to be completed. During this time, your dentist will likely apply a temporary placeholder in the place of your permanent prosthetic.
- In-office Chairside Fabrication - With the use of a CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics) machine, porcelain veneers can also be fabricated in-office while you wait. A CEREC machine incorporates three basic elements: a digital scanner, custom imaging and design software, and a computer-guided mill. Once the prosthetic has been designed on computer by your dentist, it is milled directly from a solid block of ceramic. This process can be completed in less than an hour, allowing you to leave with your permanent restoration on the same day of treatment. Some dentists believe that prosthetics fabricated in a laboratory are of a higher quality, however. Speak with a dentist in your area to determine which option is right for you.
Placing the Veneer
Once the tooth has been prepared, impressions have been taken, and your porcelain veneer has been designed and fabricated, it's time for it to be placed on the affected tooth. The veneer will be bonded directly to the tooth with dental cement. Any adjustments will be made as necessary so that the veneer fits flush with surrounding teeth and is aligned and set properly. Excess dental cement will be removed and your veneer will be secure. Whether you have received one veneer or several, you can leave the dentist's office with a beautiful new smile.
Alternative Treatment Options
In some cases, your needs may be met through other means or porcelain veneers will prove unsatisfactory as a solution for your goals. For the types of issues porcelain veneers are typically utilized to address, the following options can also serve as effective treatments.
Dental Bonding – Veneers are designed to mask minor cosmetic imperfections such as chips, cracks, and unsightly gaps in-between teeth. However, the placement process involves removing the outer portion of enamel from the tooth, permanently altering its shape and strength. For that reason, veneers may not be the best option if the flaws being corrected are truly small in scope. In such instances, dental bonding may be better suited to meet your needs. This direct restoration can be administered in a single dental appointment and can instantly restore the shape and appearance of an affected tooth. By applying the dental bonding material directly, it can be molded, matched to the tooth, and hardened in place so that it is an exact match.
Orthodontics – Because porcelain veneers can mask gaps in-between teeth, they are sometimes referred to as “instant orthodontics” because they can provide the appearance of a straight, uniform smile nearly instantly. Quite simply, once the veneers are in place, any unsightly gaps or minor crowding will be effectively hidden from view. That being said, veneers are no alternative to true orthodontic appliances. It is important to note that veneers provide merely the appearance of straight teeth – they do not actually straighten the teeth. If your teeth are severely crowded, misshapen, or misaligned, traditional orthodontic treatment will be necessary to correct the health, function, and appearance of your teeth.
The importance of a personal consultation between you and your dentist cannot be overstated. During this meeting, your dentist will evaluate your oral health and the state of your smile and determine the most effective course of action to help you realize your goals.
Weighing the Risks of Veneers
The risks associated with porcelain veneers are minimal (veneers can become damaged or worn down over time, at which point replacement will be necessary) but there are serious considerations that one must take before deciding on treatment. The removal of tooth material is permanent and non-invasive alternatives should always be considered first. If your aesthetic goals can be realized through other means, such as teeth whitening or dental bonding, then it is likely in your best interest to take advantage of these alternatives.
The Benefits of Porcelain Veneers
Porcelain veneers can help transform a smile that has lost its youthful luster into something that is radiant and beautiful. Individuals that are interested in correcting minor to moderate cosmetic flaws can benefit from porcelain veneers; in many cases, veneers are more than sufficient to meet their needs, making more complex treatment unnecessary. These durable dental prosthetics, each roughly the thickness of an egg shell, are customized to fit snuggly over the surfaces of the front teeth in order to hide any visible blemishes. Cracked, chipped, discolored, or misaligned teeth can easily be corrected and masked with porcelain veneers.
When people aren't satisfied with the appearance of their teeth, they tend to smile less often, shy away from certain social situations, and feel self-conscious. Porcelain veneers allow individuals to feel comfortable and confident, so they can smile freely at any given moment. Veneers are one of the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedures available due to the many benefits they provide. These benefits include:
Natural-looking Results - One of the primary benefits of porcelain veneers is that they are specially designed to mimic the characteristics of natural tooth enamel. Dental veneers are made from thin, translucent porcelain, so when light is directed onto the tooth, it has a natural, brilliant sheen. Quite simply, porcelain veneers look completely natural - the shape and color can be matched with surrounding teeth so that they blend in seamlessly.
Customized For Your Smile - No two smiles are the same. During the porcelain veneer placement procedure, your cosmetic dentist will take an impression of your teeth so that your veneers can be designed and fabricated based on your specific needs. The mold of your smile is sent to a lab where a skilled technician will hand-craft your porcelain veneers to fit perfectly over your teeth.
Durable, Stain-resistant Material - Porcelain veneers are strong and durable, allowing patients to carry on eating the same foods that they always have. Additionally, veneers are resistant to staining, so you can maintain sterling pearly whites, even after excessive coffee, tea, or soda drinking. That being said, individuals should be mindful that the natural teeth surrounding their veneers are susceptible to staining. As always, proper oral hygiene will be required to maintain best results.
Instant Results - You can leave the dentist office after your final visit with a gleaming-white, picture-perfect smile. Once your permanent veneers have been placed and bonded to your teeth, you can enjoy the many benefits that they have to offer immediately. Your cosmetic dentist will give you proper aftercare instructions so you can keep up your gorgeous smile for years to come.
Quick Treatment Process - The entire process is generally completed in just two or three appointments (sometimes just one appointment is necessary if your cosmetic dentist utilizes specialized technology such as a CEREC machine). After your initial appointment - during which time your teeth will be prepared for the veneers and an impression will be taken - your permanent dental veneers will be fabricated in a lab. Typically, this takes no longer than two to three weeks - temporary veneers will be worn as placeholders in the meantime. Once this process is complete, you return to the dentist to have your permanent veneers secured. In total, the process is much quicker than that required for many other cosmetic treatments, which for many individuals looking to improve their smiles is something they place great importance on.
Corrects Multiple Cosmetic Flaws - Porcelain veneers are excellent for improving various cosmetic imperfections, including: spaces between teeth; chipped, stained, discolored, or broken teeth; and misaligned or overcrowded teeth. Veneers can completely alter the size, shape, and color of the teeth, drastically transforming their appearance. Whether patients require a simple fix on just a few teeth, or more considerable work on all visible teeth, veneers can often be called upon.
No Downtime or Recovery Time - After the procedure, you can immediately resume your normal, everyday activities, including eating and drinking.
Little to No Risks or Side Effects - All dental procedures carry some degree of risk, although the risks associated with porcelain veneers placement are minor. Patients may experience slight tooth sensitivity after the procedure, though this generally subsides. It is important to note, however, that the placement procedure for porcelain veneers is irreversible, as a small layer of enamel must be removed from the surface of your tooth to make room for the prosthetic. Speak with your dentist regarding any possible side effects or risks associated with the treatment prior to commencing.
Long-lasting Solution - With proper upkeep, porcelain veneers can last anywhere from 10 to 12 years. There is a possibility that they will need to be replaced prior to this if they break or are somehow damaged. Your doctor will educate you on the best methods of maintaining your new veneers so they can last for many years.
Combine With Other Treatments - Some individuals may want additional cosmetic work done along with porcelain veneers placement, such as teeth whitening, the placement of tooth-colored fillings, or full-mouth reconstruction for a complete smile makeover.
Factoring Cost into the Equation – What Will You Pay?
The cost of porcelain veneers differs by dentist, by state, by community, and perhaps most fundamentally, by patient. Every treatment is unique, and designing, fabricating, and placing porcelain veneers is different from patient to patient. The cost of your veneers treatment is impossible to accurately predict; that being said, typical costs for porcelain veneers in the United States range from $750 to $3,000 per veneer. Should you require more than one veneer, total treatment costs can range from as low as $1,500 to as high as $20,000 – again, consulting with your dentist is a crucial step in the process of determining what the cost of your treatment will be. It should be noted that porcelain veneers are considered an elective procedure and typically are not covered through dental insurance.