Dental Veneers

If you have a chipped tooth, or if your teeth are stained beyond the help of teeth whitening, you might want to consider a dental veneer. Just as a new coat of paint can freshen the look of your home or a slipcover can remake an old sofa, so too can a veneer give your smile a fresher, more welcoming look.  A veneer is a thin porcelain or composite shell placed over the outer (front) surface of a tooth, usually to provide a more pleasing appearance.

How does a veneer work?

Basically, a veneer alters the appearance of a tooth - its size, shape, color or length - by providing a new surface. Made from porcelain or a composite material, the custom-fit veneer is bonded to the front of the tooth it is resurfacing. Because their main purpose is esthetic, veneers are generally only used on the front teeth - the ones that show when you speak or smile.

Note that although veneers are applied individually, and therefore could be used separately, they are often applied in sets because it is difficult to make a single veneer match the natural teeth around it.

Who should get veneers?

Anyone who is unhappy with the appearance of their teeth may be able to benefit from veneers. The underlying tooth must be healthy, since the veneer is really only a cover and relies on the natural tooth for support.

Veneers are best suited to correct stained, short, worn or misshapen teeth, but they can also correct alignment or spacing issues too minor for braces. Veneers can close small gaps between teeth or build teeth up so that they are in line with others around them.

If your teeth are stained from coffee, pop or tobacco, you might want to try teeth whitening before you resort to veneers. If, however, the tooth is discolored as a result of a large filling or a root canal, a veneer is probably the best treatment option.

As the person most familiar with your dental health, your dentist will best be able to determine whether or not a veneer is right for your situation.

What does a veneer entail?

Once you and your dentist have decided that a veneer is, in fact, the proper course of treatment, there are three main steps to obtaining the desired effect.

First, your dentist will remove about half a millimeter of the enamel from the tooth or teeth to which the veneer will be applied. Local anesthetic may or may not be used for this procedure, depending on the length and the number of teeth being worked on. Consult your dentist for the specifics of your individual treatment plan.

Once the enamel has been removed, the dentist will make a mold or impression of the tooth or teeth. This mold will be sent to a lab, where it will used to create the custom-fit veneer.

It will take a couple of weeks (usually two to four) for the lab to complete the work and get the veneer back to your dentist. You will then have a second appointment during which the dentist will first lay the veneer temporarily on the tooth to check its fit and color, then make any necessary adjustments (e.g., trimming excess material), and finally, cement (or bond) the veneer into place.

Your dentist may ask you to return for a follow-up appointment a few weeks later to check the veneer’s fit and its effect (if any) on the surrounding teeth and gums.

What can and can’t I do with a veneer?

Veneers require no special care, only the maintenance of good oral hygiene habits. Brush and floss regularly, and see your dentist for a cleaning and checkup at least once a year.

Although porcelain veneers are stain resistant, you may be advised to avoid certain foods, beverages or products that can discolor teeth, such as coffee and tobacco.

How much do veneers cost?

The exact cost of veneers varies, so check with your dentist for an estimate specific to your situation. In general, though, veneers are expensive - a few hundred dollars per tooth at least - and you will pay more for a porcelain veneer than for a composite one.

What’s more, veneers are rarely covered under dental insurance plans. Check with your provider to be sure, but don’t be surprised if you’re expected to pay out of pocket.