Everything You Need To Know About Veneers From a Dentist Who Works With Them Every Day

Photo: Getty Images / PIKSEL
Growing up, I never liked the way my teeth looked. Plus, I had weak enamel and cavities galore. My front four top teeth were in such bad shape that after two years of braces and a few months of nightly whitening, I got dental veneers when I was 16 years old. They transformed my smile and made me feel so much better about my appearance, something Joseph Field, DDS, a cosmetic and general dentist, says is common among veneer patients.

First things first, you should know that a veneer is a thin shell that gets bonded to a tooth. It's a much more minimally invasive, longer-lasting, and aesthetically pleasing alternative to crowns.

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"For crowns, you effectively whittled down the tooth, and then you put this crown, or this cap, over the top of the whole tooth. And before having bonded porcelain as an option for us in dentistry, that was really all we had," says Dr. Field. "In the mid-to-late eighties, we started getting more developments in the materials in dentistry, and we got into adhesive or bonding dentistry. And so instead of having to rely on the glue and what we call 'mechanical retention,' that you build into a crown, with veneering and bonded porcelain, and bonded techniques, we're able to literally take a thin porcelain shell and just bond it to the surface of the tooth."

If you're considering getting dental veneers, Dr. Field is here to answer all of your questions.

11 FAQs about dental veneers answered by an expert cosmetic dentist

1) Are veneers removable/reversible?

Once you get veneers, there's no going back: It's a permanent treatment that cannot be reversed. That's because when you get veneers, your teeth need to be filed down a bit so the veneer can fit in seamlessly.

"This is a commitment," says Dr. Field. "It's like getting a tattoo. Once you have it, it's there. I tell people when they're making this decision, 'We're doing this to make things look great, but once it's done, it's done.' And so they have got to make sure they understand that, and they're all on board with that concept."

2) How long do veneers last?

There are two types of veneers: porcelain veneers and composite veneers. While porcelain veneers are made from—you guessed it—porcelain, composite veneers are made from engineered resin. Porcelain veneers last 10 to 15 years, while composite veneers last five to seven years.

Composite veneers are typically less expensive than porcelain veneers upfront, but because porcelain veneers last longer, they are often more cost-effective in the long run. Therefore, Dr. Field recommends porcelain veneers.

3) Who is a good candidate for dental veneers?

Not everyone who wants to change up their smile needs veneers. Dr. Field says some people may be able to get the smile of their dreams from just whitening and/or orthodontics, like Invisalign.

"That gets us far with most people, but it doesn't cover everybody," he says. "I have patients whose teeth aren't whitening anymore, or they discolor really quickly, or there's chipping and wear on the teeth, other structural damages, or decay. In cases like that, the veneer has really become the go-to option."

4) How many veneers do you get?

Dr. Field says the number of veneers you get can range depending on your needs. Some people just need four in the front of their smile, while others might need a full set of 28.

"It just really depends on what our ultimate goals and outcomes need to be," says Dr. Field. "Usually, we're doing the veneers you see in your smile, so typically, we're doing eight to 10 veneers on the top."

Deciding what to do on the bottom, though, is a bit more complicated. In some cases, bottom teeth only need straightening and whitening to match what's happening on the top. In others, though, these treatments won't be enough, which is where a set of bottom veneers might come in.

"Ultimately, I tell my patient, 'Look, my job is to make it look great no matter what you choose. Your job is just to decide what you want that to look like,'" says Dr. Field. "Then, we make it happen.'"

5) How much of the tooth needs to be removed?

You might not need to get as much of your natural tooth removed as you'd think, especially if your dentist is up-to-date on the latest techniques.

"There are still some practitioners who do things very much in a traditional way, and, quite honestly, will be a little bit more aggressive with removing tooth structure just because that's the way they were taught to do it in dental school," he says. "For those who have done advanced training and do veneers every day, there's different types of reduction needed."

This all depends on the integrity of the tooth you're putting a veneer on.

"There are some cases where we can do veneers with almost zero reduction on the tooth structure," says Dr. Field. "Others, if the teeth are really far out of position, or they have lots of decay, et cetera, then obviously there's going to be more reduction of tooth structure to accommodate that."

6) How strong are veneers?

You can expect your veneers to be just as strong as regular, healthy teeth.

"Once a veneer is bonded to a tooth, the tooth is as strong as it was prior to having the veneer. It's a very strong bond with the porcelain to the tooth structure. And the porcelain itself is very strong," says Dr. Field. "In some cases, we're actually strengthening the teeth because the enamel is broken down or it's softer, or we have other structural issues that we're addressing with the veneers."

That said, veneers aren't indestructible.

"Teeth are not tools," says Dr. Field. "Opening up a beer bottle with your teeth is not the best idea. Stick to normal food items and avoid chewing on ice and even biting fingernails—all that stuff that you shouldn't do anyway, and certainly not after you've invested in veneers."

7) How much do veneers typically cost?

Veneers are an investment. According to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry, veneers can cost an average of $925 to $2,500 per tooth. If you're going somewhere really good, Dr. Field says to expect to pay $2,200 to $4,500 per tooth. Typically, dental insurance will not cover cosmetic procedures like veneers, but if the treatment is being done on teeth with structural issues (like decay), insurance may offer partial coverage.

8) Will they make my teeth look bulky?

"Unfortunately, there are veneers done out there in the dental world that don't look great, and everybody sees them, and they put a bad name to what we do in cosmetic dentistry," says Dr. Field. He says it's important to make sure you're going to someone who specializes in veneers. Often, dentists are generalists and they'll do veneers every once in a while. If you can, Dr. Field recommends working with someone who does veneers daily. "There's a difference between doing a veneer case once a week or once a month versus doing it every day. It's a very technique-sensitive process. Just like anything, the more repetitions you get, the better you get at it, the better the result that you can deliver."

9) Can veneers fall out?

"That's pretty uncommon," says Dr. Field. "Usually what'll happen, just like what could happen with a natural tooth, say you're eating a salad and you bite a fork, for example. Well, that could chip a tooth. It could also chip a veneer. They're not indestructible, but they're very, very strong."

10) What is the upkeep like?

You'll want to care for your veneers just like regular teeth.

"Brushing, flossing, regular cleanings, all of that is crucial to maintaining the health of the veneers," says Dr. Field. "There's still a lot of tooth structure there. And so we want to make sure we keep the teeth healthy, the gums healthy, and don't have any increased rate of decay on the teeth."

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