Cosmetic dentistry: a guide to veneers

Dental veneers (teeth veneers) are a type of cosmetic dental treatment which improve the appearance of crooked, stained, or damaged teeth. A veneer is a wafer-thin layer of porcelain (or other composite material) fitted very precisely over the surface of a tooth – much like a false nail fits over a real fingernail. For this reason, teeth veneers do not actually restore the health or function of teeth, but they do improve the appearance. The result of this cosmetic dental surgery is a set of straight, matching teeth of healthy white colouring, giving the patient greater confidence to show off their smile.

This article on dental veneers is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

What can veneers treat?

Dental veneers are a popular choice for patients having a smile makeover (that is, any cosmetic dental treatment that improves the aesthetics of your teeth). They correct a number of dental complaints, including:

  • Stained teeth that resist professional tooth whitening treatments can be effectively hidden by veneers. This is a common problem for smokers and people who regularly drink tea, coffee, and red wine.
  • Damaged teeth can occur through excessive grinding or carbonated drinks, or may simply have been chipped or broken in an accident. A veneer can extent the length of a full-sized tooth.
  • Crooked teeth form naturally due to lack of space and are better treated with orthodontics such as Invisalign braces. However, this can take a year or more to correct, so some people turn to veneers for a quick fix.
  • Gaps or spaces that have formed between your teeth can be hidden by veneers to produce a better structured and balanced smile.

How can I get veneers?

A consultation with your dentist will give you a chance to discuss all the options, including whether tooth veneers are right for you. They are a popular choice because they look just like real teeth with the light-reflective characteristics of enamel. Veneers also resist staining, unlike natural teeth.

However, you should be aware that the process is irreversible. Veneers may not be suitable for people with unhealthy or weak teeth, or for those who grind their teeth a lot, either in their sleep or as a general nervous habit. This may cause the veneers to break off.

For a single tooth, prices start from £200 and range up to £1,200 depending on the material used. Because tooth veneers are a form of cosmetic dental surgery they are not available at subsidised rates on the NHS. Healthy porcelain veneers last for 5-10 years, while composite veneers may only last for 1-2 years. So eventually they will need to be replaced at additional cost.

What is the procedure?

A local anaesthetic is injected into the gums so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. The cosmetic dentist will then prepare the surfaces of your teeth so they can accommodate your new veneers. This involves shaving off a very thin amount of enamel with a dental drill, equivalent to the thickness of the veneer.

An impression of your teeth will be made with special dental putty from which the new teeth veneers are cast. This can take up to three weeks, during which time you may receive temporary veneers. Alternatively, in some modern surgeries, a hi-tech system called CEREC is used to take 3D photographs of your teeth. The images are sent to an onsite milling machine which produces the veneers in a matter of minutes.

With the new veneers at hand, the cosmetic dentist will clean the surfaces of your teeth and roughen them with a special acid gel. This creates the optimum bonding surface for the dental cement. The veneers will be put in place carefully and activated with a special curing light which permanently bonds the veneer to the tooth. Finally, the new surfaces are polished for a natural result.

What are the different types of veneers?

Porcelain teeth veneers are wafer thin shells made from porcelain and glued to the surface of the tooth. While similar in purpose, composite veneers (also known as bonding) are slightly different; they involve applying a paste to the tooth and then polishing it to the desired shape.

Lumineers are thinner than traditional dental veneers. Made from a patented porcelain about as thin as a contact lens they are incredibly strong. With lumineers, there’s no need to remove any enamel in the preparation stage. This makes the procedure quick and painless, but may also cause them to feel bulkier than other veneers.

Deciding to have porcelain veneers, composites, or lumineers depends on the problem you’re tackling. Lumineers are better for minor cosmetic adjustments, whereas veneers offer greater flexibility for a wider range of complaints. This is something to discuss in detail with your dentist.

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Cosmetic dentistry: a guide to veneers
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