What are porcelain veneers?
Dental veneers are thin shells of porcelain that are bonded to the front of the teeth to change their shape, size and colour, or to close spaces between teeth.
Firstly, a small amount of tooth enamel – approximately ½ to 1mm – is reduced. A dental laboratory then creates a thin layer of porcelain that is bonded onto the teeth using dental resins. The procedure typically takes two visits. During the first visit, an impression of the teeth is taken and the patient leaves with temporary veneers. Two or three weeks later, the permanent veneers are bonded onto the teeth.
Apart from porcelain, veneers can be made of resin, acrylic, or zirconia. “When I describe veneers to my patients, I ask them to think of a veneer as half a crown that covers the front and top of the tooth,” says cosmetic dentist, Edward Alvarez.
What does the procedure involve?
“Porcelain veneers generally require the removal of some tooth enamel, although minimal-prep veneers require less enamel removal,” says cosmetic dentist, Sean Anderson. “The dentist takes impressions of the teeth, which will guide the ceramicist making the veneers. Patients are then fitted with temporary veneers until the permanent ones are ready. This normally takes two to three weeks, although some dental offices use technology such as a CEREC machine to fabricate veneers in a single appointment, which means no temporaries will be necessary,” he adds.
“Once the veneers are fabricated to match the colour of the patient’s teeth and their smile, the dentist etches the front of the tooth to create a suitable surface for the veneers. Finally, the veneers are cemented into place with a dental bonding agent,” Dr Anderson says.
According to Dr Alvarez, the patient can choose whether they want their new teeth longer, or shorter – or their smile wider. “Some dentists will guide the patient as to what will complement their face. They can round corners of teeth, or make them flatter to reflect gender and age,” he says.
If the dentist uses a CEREC machine to produce the veneers, instead of making a wax mould of the teeth, he or she will use a special camera to take an image of the teeth, which is then uploaded to the design unit. The design unit uses CAD or CAM software that enables the dentist to create a 3D model of the new teeth. Next, the dentist creates the veneers from a block of high quality ceramic using a milling machine. The dentist will choose the type of ceramic best suited to the teeth. Once the veneers are ready, they may be stained so that the colour matches the teeth, before a final polish.
How expensive is the procedure?
“Veneers, done well, can be very expensive because they are technique-sensitive. You are dealing with a porcelain shell that can, in many cases, be half the thickness of a coin,” says Dr Alvarez.
Porcelain veneers can range from €1,500 to €4,000 or more per veneer. Other factors that determine price include the type of veneers used, the dentist’s qualifications and experience, and the location of the dentist and ceramicist.
How long do porcelain veneers last?
If the veneers are high quality and the patient cares for them properly, they can last between 15 and 30 years.
“I have patients I fitted with veneers in 1998, and they still look the same as the day there were done,” says Dr Alvarez.
As with natural teeth, veneers will wear and break if abused. To help them last longer, it’s important to care for them properly.
Are there people who should avoid veneers?
“Patients who are not interested in taking care of their teeth with proper hygiene, or those who are heavy grinders and don’t wear a night guard, should not get veneers,” says Dr Daniel Rubinshtein.
Dr Michael Tischler says, “Sometimes a bad bite will make a person unsuitable for veneers due to the risk of them breaking off due to excessive stress. In those cases, a crown with full coverage is recommended.”
How to look after porcelain veneers
Veneers can last up to 30 years with proper care. To keep yours in the best possible condition, do the following:
- Treat veneers as you would regular teeth: Brush, floss and eat well to keep your teeth and gums healthy, which will also preserve a strong foundation for the veneers
- Visit your dentist regularly: Biannual appointments give your dentist the opportunity to pick up on problems, and check the condition of your veneers
- Mind what you chew: Your veneers are no more invincible than ordinary teeth. Dental porcelain is subject to chipping and breakage, so avoid chewing ice, pen caps, fingernails and hard objects
- Avoid abrasive toothpastes that include baking soda or charcoal: Such toothpastes may remove surface stain initially, but eventually they will leave your veneers looking dull
- Wear a nightguard: A nightguard will protect the porcelain from chipping or fracturing while you sleep. Even if you think you don’t grind or clench, it’s a good safety precaution. After all, you’ve invested thousands in that perfect smile!