Dental veneers are custom-designed shells of tooth-like ceramic material that, when applied over the surface of a tooth, can cover worn tooth enamel, uneven tooth alignment or spacing and chips or cracks.
Dental veneers fall into the category of cosmetic dentistry because they create a bright, white smile with beautifully aligned, shapely teeth. Even better, the translucent ceramic quality of today's veneers provides a more natural look than what's been available in the past.
Regardless of what causes unattractive teeth, dental veneers may solve most or even all of your cosmetic dental issues, including:
Worn enamel: Over time, the thin, hard white substance covering your teeth (enamel) may become worn, dulled, and discolored. Such wear and discoloration may be natural or the result of a genetic predisposition; however, it is often a result of your habits (soft drink, tea, or coffee consumption, smoking, medication use, etc.).
Wear and tear: Teeth naturally wear down as people age. Aged teeth are more likely to have chips, cracks or a generally uneven appearance.
Genetics: Certain people may be born with abnormal spacing between the teeth that grows wider as they age.
Uneven teeth: Uneven teeth can result from tooth grinding or general wear and tear.
Porcelain veneers and composite resin veneers
The two most common materials used in the manufacture of dental veneers are composite resin and porcelain veneers. Both porcelain veneers and composite veneers can be fabricated by a dental technician in a dental laboratory; composite veneers can also be directly fabricated inside your mouth at the dental office.
Dental veneers that are indirectly fabricated - fabricated in a dental laboratory - are bonded to the teeth with various types of resin cement. Of the two options, porcelain veneers are longer lasting and more expensive.
When are veneers appropriate?
Bonding often serves as an inexpensive and effective restoration for small chips and cracks in the teeth. Such minor problems may be functionally and cosmetically repaired with a composite "white filling." A composite resin material is bonded to the tooth in order to fill in the chip or crack and better protect the surrounding tooth structure. But for more severe cases of dullness, wear, discoloration, mild chipping, cracking, spacing, or uneven teeth, dental veneers may be recommended as a more appropriate solution.
Veneers or whitening?
Teeth whitening may provide a white smile for mildly discolored teeth. Some people who are interested in veneers will find that their cosmetic dentist will steer them to the simpler alternative of whitening, perhaps combined with some simple orthodontic alignment. The placement of dental veneers requires the "shaping" or "prepping" of all teeth being fitted with the custom-designed shells. This process permanently alters the teeth that are treated and is therefore not recommended if your natural teeth are functionally and esthetically adequate.
If you have a severe case of dull or discolored teeth, you may have to opt for dental veneers. Veneers do have the added benefits of longevity and a proven ability to enhance the appearance of the mouth, smile, and possibly other areas of an aged face that would be better supported by properly shaped teeth. Although veneers require a much larger commitment than teeth whitening, the results are typically well worth it.
A restorative benefit to veneers
In addition to being esthetically pleasing, dental veneers can also serve a functional purpose by protecting the surface of a damaged tooth. In some cases, veneers may replace the need for a dental crown, eliminating the need for more invasive tooth preparation.
Because dental veneers are so thin, they might require little-to-no tooth reshaping when bonded onto the tooth. Once veneers are bonded into place, they are relatively strong and durable; however, care must be taken so as not to abuse veneers because the thin porcelain shells can damage or break. Your dentist may advise you against certain uses or dietary tendencies (such as eating carrots) and may recommend you wear a protective appliance while your sleep, especially if you are a bruxer.
The major advantage of composite veneers is treatment time. If composite is used, the dental veneers can be done in one appointment. The dentist will actually make the veneers directly on the prepared teeth.
The veneers are then smoothed and polished to look like your natural teeth. Since it takes only one appointment, you can leave your dentist's office with a brand new smile.
One of the disadvantages of composite veneers is that they are not as strong as porcelain veneers and therefore are more prone to fracture. However, if a fracture does occur, they can be easily repaired because the same material that was used initially to make the veneers can be added in the same manner to fix it.
Another disadvantage is that the color, although stable, is not as stable as the same porcelain veneer restoration. This means that over time the veneers may get darker or turn yellow. Eventually, this change in color can warrant the replacement of the composite veneers.
Porcelain veneers require a longer treatment time. At the first appointment, your teeth are prepared and an impression is made of them. Temporary dental veneers are made out of plastic and placed on your teeth. They are used to protect your teeth while the real porcelain veneers are being fabricated. You can also use them to evaluate the look and feel of your teeth so that any changes you desire can be incorporated into your real veneers.
At the second appointment, the temporary veneers are removed and the porcelain veneers bonded to your teeth.
Although they are thin, porcelain veneers are much stronger than composite veneers, so the risk of fracture compared to the composite veneers is much less. However, if a fracture does occur, repairing it is more difficult and may result in the veneers having to be remade.
In general, porcelain veneers can be used in a greater variety of situations with a higher level of predictability. Since they are made outside the mouth, the shape and color can be easier to control, thus enhancing the final result.