Everything You Need to Know Before Getting Dental Veneers

Plus how to pick the right veneer for you.

closeup of a woman's toothy grin
Photo: Rolf Bruderer/Getty Images

From enamel bonding to lingual braces, we've come a long way in the world of cosmetic dentistry. Perhaps one of the most popular—and life-changing—treatments you can ask for at the dentist today is veneers, a valuable but pricey service that can give you a dream smile without having to undergo years of metal in your mouth. Not only can veneers fix asymmetrical sizes and spaces between teeth, they can also white a smile by covering discoloration.

However, as with any permanent cosmetic treatment, veneers are a big commitment, so it's important that you know what you're getting into and which veneer type you want. We tapped multiple dental experts to help you navigate your veneer decision.

What Are Veneers?

Simply put, veneering is the process of placing a thin shell of material over a tooth to change its color, size, shape, or texture. "A well-designed set of veneers will improve a smile and provide major lip support. I often call it the ultimate face lift—people are surprised at how much younger it makes them look," says Sharon Huang, DDS, cosmetic dentist and founder of Les Belles NYC.

How Much Do Veneers Cost?

Veneers are an investment—they can cost anywhere from a few hundred (for composite) to a few thousand dollars (for porcelain) per tooth. They also may need to be replaced over time—although good ones can last decades—and can chip if not properly cared for. That's why a consultation with a cosmetic dentist is crucial before jumping into any decision—depending on your needs, it may turn out that orthodontic treatment (i.e., braces) or teeth-whitening is a better service for you.

If your dentist decides that veneers are the best option, there are a couple different types to choose from.

Composite vs. Porcelain Veneers

Composite Veneers

Composite veneers are direct restorations that are done with bonding the composite on the teeth. These are sculpted chair-side by your dentist using resin-based composite materials, which is the same material dentists use for 'tooth-colored fillings,'" says Angelique Freking, DDS, director of dentistry at Park Slope Dental. "Composite veneers are done at the dental office usually in one visit, versus porcelain veneers which are typically done in two," adds Wesam Shafee, DMD, cosmetic dentist and founder of Smile Care Dental Group.

Although composite veneers are the most affordable, keep in mind that they don't last long—and will probably need to be replaced eventually. "Composites are most prone to chipping and can change color throughout the years, so they only last about four to five years," says Dr. Shafee. Dr. Freking adds that due to the material, they may not be as ideal in shape and translucency as porcelain.

Porcelain Veneers

As the name implies, porcelain veneers are made out of porcelain and remain the clear winner in the durability department, generally lasting for 15+ years with the proper care. "Once the porcelain veneers are bonded with your teeth, they should not be more chip-prone than your natural teeth," says Dr. Shafee. However, if your porcelain veneers become chipped or damaged, they will need to be replaced entirely since they can't be repaired like composite veneers.

According to Dr. Freking, porcelain veneers are typically considered the most lifelike, natural looking material to use for veneers, so they're ideal for someone who wants to make big changes to their entire smile. However, they are also the most expensive and can range anywhere between $2,000 to $6,000 per tooth due to the material and the fact that they have to be manufactured by a technician in a dental laboratory. "Your dentist will prepare your teeth for veneers, collect an impression or scan, and have you leave with 'temporary' veneers," says Dr. Freking. After that, you will return in a few weeks for delivery of your final porcelain veneers."

Teeth-Whitening vs. Veneers

If your teeth are aligned properly (i.e., not cracked or fractured) and the only thing you want to improve is the color, teeth-whitening should be the first alternative to explore. As opposed to veneers, which cover the surface of your natural teeth, teeth-whitening lifts the stains by bleaching the pigments from the "pores" of your teeth. "The entire process is non-invasive and does not require anesthesia—and usually involves a layer of gel placed on top of teeth to remove stains accumulated on teeth over time," says Dr. Huang.

So, when should you turn to veneers for teeth-whitening? Because teeth-whitening results only last about a year, veneers are better if you're trying to save multiple visits to the dentist. Veneers are also a good option if you experience sensitivity from the chemicals in teeth-whitening since it doesn't involve any exposure to bleaching agents.

Another thing to keep in mind: "Teeth-whitening can only help with discoloration from food and drinks, otherwise known as extrinsic staining," says Dr. Huang "That means teeth-whitening will bring a tooth back to its natural color, not change the actual color of teeth." In other words, if your natural tooth color is off-white, the result of teeth-whitening will be off-white. If you're wanting a brighter color, veneers are the only other option.

How to Choose the Right Veneer

There are several important factors to keep in mind when making your decision between porcelain and composite veneers. "I typically talk to my patients about their particular aesthetic and functional goals when deciding what type of veneer to choose," says Dr. Freking.

If you're looking for something temporary and cost-effective, composite veneers are the way to go. "The cost of a composite veneer is usually half of a porcelain veneer, as it does not involve a lab or ceramist cost," says Dr. Huang.

On the other hand, porcelain veneers are most likely to provide the most aesthetic results for the longest period of time. "The benefits of porcelain veneers are longevity, strength, and aesthetics," says Dr. Huang. "When porcelain veneers are bonded to teeth, they are very durable. The porcelain material is also naturally beautiful—they reflect light similar to enamel that will give your veneers a very natural shine that doesn't dull over time."

If you're committing to porcelain veneers, look for an office that allows you to wear your dream smile in your mouth and see how it fits your face before you commit to the treatment. For example, Les Belles NYC provides a service called Smile Preview that hand-sculpts a custom smile on patients' teeth to show them a draft of their new smile before they commit to the smile makeover. "It's like trying on your custom wedding dress before your wedding day," says Dr. Huang. It's really the most important step to ensure you will get the smile of your dreams."

Ultimately, keep in mind that the process of designing a smile with veneers is an art. "It's very important to do your research to find the artist with a portfolio that will make you feel comfortable," says Dr. Huang. "Make sure to meet the artist first to make sure they will listen and work with you to create your dream smile."

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