What makes a smile beautiful? That’s a complex question, but some qualities of a lovely smile are immediately identifiable: good tooth color, shape and alignment are a few of the most important ones. If your teeth could use improvement in any of these categories, porcelain veneers could be just what you’re looking for. Teeth that are badly injured, stained, shaped, chipped, or crooked may be improved by a veneer placed on the surface of the affected teeth.
You may already know that a veneer is a thin covering over another surface. In dentistry, a veneer is a wafer-thin layer of super-strong porcelain that convincingly substitutes for natural tooth enamel. When bonded to your teeth, veneers can create a natural-looking, beautiful new surface. That’s because dental porcelain, like natural tooth enamel, is translucent and tough. But it doesn’t stain like tooth enamel does; veneers have a longer life expectancy and color stability, and highly resist permanent staining from coffee, tea, or even cigarette smoking.
Recent years have brought remarkable advances in dental porcelain technology. These days, veneers can be made so thin that they can sometimes be bonded directly to your existing tooth surface. In other cases, a very thin layer of tooth enamel — as thin as the veneer itself — needs to be removed to fit the new porcelain surface and make it look as lifelike as possible. Either way, the results are sure to make you smile.
Veneers can be used to improve any of the following characteristics of your teeth:
Color — Teeth can become stained by the foods and drinks we like, from smoking, and even normal aging. Veneers are available in numerous shades, from the most natural to the brightest Hollywood white.
Size & Shape — Teeth can become worn down from grinding habits, or may not have the shape or size you want, to begin with. For example, some people consider rounder teeth more feminine and squarer teeth more masculine. Veneers can be shaped and sized in whichever way is most flattering to your face.
Alignment & Spacing — Veneers can be used to close small gaps between teeth or make slight corrections in alignment while improving tooth color and shape.
There are some situations in which veneers would be inappropriate. For example, if you have significantly misaligned teeth or a large gap, orthodontics might be a more appropriate solution than veneers. And if you have lost a lot of tooth structure from decay or trauma (or a particularly severe grinding habit), it might be better to restore your teeth with porcelain crowns that cover the entire tooth.
The first step in creating a new smile with porcelain veneers is to communicate exactly what you don’t like about your smile as it is now. It’s a great idea to bring in pictures of smiles you do like, as a starting point for discussion. It’s possible to see how veneers would look on your teeth in one of several ways. A model of your teeth can be created over which wax “veneers” can be placed; sometimes acrylic (plastic) or tooth-colored filling material can be placed directly onto your teeth to demonstrate the effect veneers would have on them.
Typically, veneers entail at least three appointments: diagnosis and treatment planning, preparation, and bonding. Once the plan for your new smile has been agreed upon, your teeth will be prepared by removing a small amount of enamel, if this step is necessary. The teeth are lightly buffed to allow for the small added thickness of the veneer. Usually, about a half a millimeter of the tooth is removed, which may require a local anesthetic. During the same visit, molds of your teeth will be taken and used by a skilled dental laboratory to create your veneers, and you will receive a temporary set of veneers to wear during the few weeks it will take to create your permanent veneers. When the veneers come back from the lab, they will be cemented onto your teeth during the final “bonding” visit.
During the bonding visit, the veneers are placed on the tooth surface with water or glycerin on the teeth to check their fit and get a sense of the shade or color. While the veneers are resting on your teeth, they can be adjusted with various shades of cement to match the color of your teeth. To apply the veneer, the tooth is cleansed with specific chemicals to achieve a bond. Once a special cement is sandwiched between the veneer and tooth, a visible light beam, or laser, causes a catalyst to be released, hardening the cement.
During a two-week period of adjustment that follows, you may notice the change of size and shape in your teeth. It is important to brush and floss daily. After one or two weeks, you`ll return for a follow-up appointment. Porcelain veneers are reasonable facsimiles of natural teeth, not perfect replacements. It`s not uncommon to see slight variations in the color of porcelain veneers upon close inspection, as this occurs even in natural teeth.
Just like the teeth nature gave you, teeth restored with veneers need gentle brushing and flossing every day. This will remove dental plaque and ensure good gum tissue health around the veneers. Regular checkups at the dental office will remain as important as always to your oral and general health. And keep in mind that as tough as veneers are, they may not be able to withstand forces that come from using your teeth as tools (to open packages, for example) or biting into very hard foods like candy apples — which isn’t good for your natural teeth, either! And if you grind or clench your teeth at night, you might be advised to get a custom-made night guard to protect your veneers — and your investment.