How dental veneers can improve your smile

Smiling can make you feel happier 1 and boost your self-esteem.2 But if you don’t love how your teeth — and your smile — look, there are things you can do.

One way to improve the appearance of the teeth is with veneers, which are custom-made shells that fit over the teeth’s front surfaces. They can hide stains, chips and a variety of other smile stealers, notes Michael Kosdon, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist in New York City.

Here’s a closer look at veneers to help you determine whether you’re a candidate — and learn what to expect if you decide to get them.

What are dental veneers and what tooth problems can they fix?

“Veneers are small, thin pieces of porcelain that are laminated over the front of your teeth,” explains George Camp, D.D.S., a dentist in Bluffton, South Carolina. They can range in size from a half millimeter to 2 millimeters, he adds. Once on, they are there to stay, since the process can only be reversed by the dentist removing the veneers.

People who aren’t happy with the way their teeth look often get veneers, says Dr. Kosdon. They’re typically used on teeth that are:3

  • Discolored and can’t be whitened by bleaching
  • Slightly crooked
  • Chipped, slightly cracked or worn down
  • Uneven spaces or gaps.

“As you age, veneers are even more important. They can protect and strengthen worn-down teeth to help you chew better,” he says. “They also help to close spaces between the teeth, so food doesn’t get in there and lead to periodontal disease.”

Is there anyone who can’t get veneers?

People who clench or grind their teeth are not ideal candidates, explains Dr. Camp. People who grind their teeth can very easily chip or fracture a veneer, just like they can with their natural teeth, he says.

If you’re in this situation, or if you have broken teeth, Camp recommends a porcelain crown, which will cover the tooth and add strength and protection.

What are the different veneer options?

A cosmetic dentist will help determine which type of veneers are best for you. There are 3 types:

Porcelain veneers

These are the most popular and the most durable, Dr. Kosdon notes. Porcelain veneers are very thin shells made of strong ceramic that can last years.

Usually, it takes 2 or 3 appointments to get porcelain veneers, explains Dr. Camp. To make room for the veneer, the dentist will remove a small amount of enamel from the front and sides of your teeth while you’re under anesthesia. Then they’ll take an impression of your teeth, which is sent to a lab that will make the veneers.

“Oftentimes, we can make temporary veneers for patients, so that they can see what their smile looks like before we bond the permanent veneers on,” says Dr. Camp. There are also software programs that allow you to see what your smile would look like post-treatment, he adds.

No-prep veneers

With this option, a dentist only removes a little enamel. That way, the veneers are placed during a single session.

Since they are so thin, they’re also often referred to as “contact lens veneers.” “They’re just as sturdy as traditional porcelain veneers,” Dr. Camp says. “But they can be difficult to make look natural, because we weren’t able to prep the tooth as much, so the tooth may look thicker.”

Composite veneers

Like no-prep veneers, these are traditionally done in a single appointment. But these veneers are made from a material known as a composite resin, explains Kosdon.

“These veneers will need to be replaced over time,” says Dr. Kosdon. “I don’t usually recommend them unless someone is very young or is unable to afford a porcelain veneer.”

How much do veneers cost?

The cost varies depending on what part of the country you live in, the experience of your dentist and the type of veneers used. But in general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 for a single veneer, notes Dr. Kosdon.

Dental insurance typically doesn’t cover the costs, he adds. That’s because veneers are considered cosmetic.

“When patients ask me how many veneers they should get, I give them a hand mirror and ask them, ‘How many of your teeth show when you smile?’” says Dr. Camp. “That usually provides an answer.”

What happens after you get veneers?

Your gums will probably be sore for a couple days after the procedure. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen will help ease the pain, Dr. Camp notes.

You may notice a couple weeks of sensitivity to very cold or hot temperatures. But after that, you can expect your mouth to go back to normal, Dr. Camp explains.

Then care for your new smile by giving veneers the same TLC you’d give to a regular tooth, advises Dr. Camp. See the dentist regularly — every 6 to 12 months — and keep up a regular brushing and flossing routine.

There are a few other things you can do to protect your investment as well:3

  • To avoid cracking veneers, don’t bite directly into hard or crunchy foods such as apples, advises Dr. Camp. Cut them up and chew them with your back teeth.
  • While porcelain veneers are stain-resistant, you may still want to limit dark-colored foods and drinks such as berries, red wine, coffee and tea.

When their finances allow it, many people find veneers are worth the cost.4 If you’re unhappy with the way your teeth look, talk to a dentist to see if veneers are right for you.

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