Porcelain Veneers Guide: Top Questions & Answers

Reviewed for medical accuracy Dr. Nancy Summer Lerch in November 2015

Porcelain veneers are very thin pieces of porcelain that reproduce the natural look and feel of your teeth. These custom-made shells are bonded to the front of the teeth to enhance their size, shape, or color.

VeneersNot only can veneers provide a dramatic improvement in spacing, discoloration, and chipping, but they’ve also been touted as dentistry’s answer to the facelift. By adding length or bulk where needed, your dentist can give your face the appearance of more supportive structures, which can smooth wrinkles and give you a more youthful look.

If you’re considering porcelain veneers, you probably have a lot of questions. We’ve drawn on the expertise of RealSelf doctors to bring you answers.

In This Overview:

What Are Porcelain Veneers?
Are They Right for Me?
How Long Do They Last?
Do They Look Fake?
How Much Do They Cost?
Does Insurance Cover Them?
How Do I Choose a Dentist?
What Happens During the Procedure?
What’s the Recovery Time?
Can They Be Removed?
What Are Common Side Effects?
What Else Do I Need to Know?

What Are Porcelain Veneers?

Porcelain veneers are made up of ceramic layers, bonded to the front of the teeth. They are mainly used to improve size, shape, color, gapping, chipping, and/or failing dental filling, but they might also be recommended as a fix for minor alignment issues. Unlike other materials used for veneers, such as composite resin, porcelain is better at resisting stains and discoloration and has more of the natural-looking, light-reflecting properties of teeth. Back to top

Are Porcelain Veneers Right for Me?

Ideal candidates for porcelain veneers have teeth that are discolored, uneven, irregularly shaped, chipped, worn down, or have gapping or mild misalignment. While it’s possible to place veneers on extremely crooked teeth, most dentists recommend that people with this problem have their teeth straightened prior to getting veneers. “We want cosmetic dentistry to last a lifetime,” says New Haven dentist Nancy Summer Lerch. “This is most likely to happen when the teeth are in their proper spot. Often clear alignments or straight wire orthodontics will be recommended first.”

Veneers are not a good option for people with tooth decay or active gum disease. Those with a history of clenching or grinding their teeth are typically poor candidates, since that kind of pressure can cause veneers to chip or crack. Back to top

How Long Do Porcelain Veneers Last?

With the proper care, most dentists estimate that porcelain veneers last anywhere between 10 and 30 years. That said, they can fail early due to trauma or underlying tooth decay, so routine maintenance is essential. Get regular check-ups, brush softly with a non-abrasive toothpaste, and floss daily. Avoid using your teeth as a tool (no opening packages), which can cause veneers to fracture or chip. Make sure your dental hygienist knows you have veneers so they’ll use the proper polish technique during cleaning. Back to top

Do Porcelain Veneers Look Fake?

Individual results vary, but the goal is for the porcelain veneers to look and feel like a person’s own teeth, only better. To avoid the too-straight, too-white appearance that many associate with obvious veneers, intentional imperfections like slight rotation, subtle discoloration, and grooves can be made to imitate natural flaws.

“Veneers certainly can look fake,” says Seattle dentist Lance Timmerman. “A successful case is the result of great teamwork between a dentist and lab technician. The dentist must design the case for long-term success and the ceramist must create custom works of art to give a beautiful and natural look. Cosmetics is not taught in dental school, so it’s important to find a dentist that has extra training and certification showing this education. Experience counts.”

To get an idea of the kinds of results you might expect, below are three of the most viewed before and after photos on RealSelf.

Veneers LerchPhoto courtesy of New Haven dentist Nancy Summer Lerch

Veneers Estep
Photo courtesy of Atlanta dentist Susan Goode Estep

Veneers Patel
Photo courtesy of India dentist Nirav Patel

How Much Do Porcelain Veneers Cost?

While the average cost of porcelain veneers is listed at around $7,000 on RealSelf, the price can vary widely. Many factors can affect cost, including the complexity of the case, how many teeth are being treated, the education and experience of the dentist, and where in the country the procedure is being performed. A single veneer can cost anywhere between $500 and $3,000. Some dentists have a set charge per tooth, while others charge on a case-by-case basis.

Porcelain veneers are certainly not cheap, but long-lasting and natural-looking results require the skill of an experienced dentist and an artistic lab technician. In cases such as these, you typically get what you pay for.

“Porcelain veneers are expensive. There’s no question about that,” says Chicago dentist Gerilyn Alfe. “But the initial investment, when spread out over 10 years, comes out to much less than what many of us spend daily at Starbucks. And the boost to your self-esteem, confidence, and general well-being is priceless.” Back to top

Does Insurance Cover Porcelain Veneers?

In most cases, porcelain veneers are considered an elective cosmetic procedure and not a necessary treatment. For this reason, veneers are typically not covered by insurance unless they’re being used to restore a decayed or broken tooth.

“Have your dentist submit a predetermination to the insurance carrier, along with any documentation as to why veneers will benefit your teeth,” explains Glendale dentist Donald Wilcox. “Most companies will see no value in you having a terrific smile, [but] it’s an investment in yourself that can pay dividends for years to come.”

Discuss your options with your dentist and insurance provider. If coverage is not available, payment plans may be available through a financing company. Back to top

How Do I Choose a Dentist for Porcelain Veneers?

As with any elective procedure, the most important factor in choosing a doctor is experience. While any dentist can offer porcelain veneers, not all have additional training in cosmetics. You can look for a dentist who’s accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, though please note that cosmetic dentistry is not a recognized specialty like orthodontics or oral surgery. This is where things can get tricky and research becomes even more important.

Sarah Thompson, a dentist based in Saint Louis, offers this checklist to help you determine if a dentist has the qualifications to perform porcelain veneers:

Look at Before and After Photos

“Before and after photos show you exactly what the doctor is capable of and what they are not capable of. Make sure the pictures are of actual patients of that dentist and not stock photos. Veneers are all about appearance and detail.”

Ask About Their Experience

“Ask the dentist how many veneers they’ve placed in their lifetime. When a dentist answers thousands, that is great.”

Ask About Guarantees

“Does the dentist offer a warranty or guarantee on how long your veneers will last without cracking or chipping or coming off? Whether the dentist is willing to stand behind his or her work is one of the biggest telltale signs of the type of quality you are getting.”

Compare Prices

“Some doctors will occasionally offer promotions, where they reduce their cost slightly because they do so many veneers. But generally, you do not want to get a cheap veneer placed for $500 or $600. [On the other side of the coin], depending on your region of the country, $1,800 might be way too much. The price should be comparable to other experienced dentists in the area.”

RealSelf only allows licensed and qualified doctors to participate on our site. Other directories may have reviews of dentists, but RealSelf is the only place where you can also see real patient results and compare their expertise. If you’re looking for someone to give you porcelain veneers, use our Doctor Finder to research dentists in your area. Back to top

What Happens During a Porcelain Veneer Procedure?

The process of getting porcelain veneers typically happens in three stages: consultation, molding, and bonding.

Consultation and Treatment Planning

The first step involves having a consultation with your dentist, who will examine your mouth and determine if porcelain veneers will give you the results you’re looking to achieve. You might get a diagnostic mock-up, which involves applying temporary tooth-colored materials to the teeth to see what you might look like with veneers. Your dentist will likely take a photo of your teeth before and after the mockup and remove the material. These photos should help you decide if veneers are going to give you the look you want, as well as allow you to point out changes you may not have thought of before.

As New Haven dentist Nancy Summer Lerch explains, “There are also cosmetic simulation programs that immediately give you a picture of what different colors, sizes, and shapes would look like in your smile. That helps take all the guesswork out of your decision.”

Enamel Removal and Molding

Your dentist will remove roughly half a millimeter of enamel from any teeth getting veneers, which is the thickness of the porcelain that’ll be added to the surface of your teeth. Once this portion is complete, your dentist will make a model or impression of the teeth being treated and send it off to a dental lab for the creation of the veneers.

It typically takes about one to two weeks for the veneers to be made and sent back to your dentist. During this time, you might wear temporary veneers to protect your teeth from sensitivity. The need for temporaries depends on the severity of your case and what kind of work was needed to prepare for the veneers. Since these are not permanently fixed and are easily damaged, avoid eating hard foods if you’re wearing temporary veneers.

Bonding and Follow-Up

Before your dentist permanently bonds the veneers to your teeth, he or she will examine them for proper fit and color. The veneer might be trimmed to the right size, and the color can be slightly adjusted based on the shade of bonding cement used.

Your dentist will clean, perhaps polish, and then etch the treated teeth. Etching provides additional texture that allows for stronger bonding. The cement will then be placed on the veneer, and the veneer affixed to the tooth. Once the veneer is in the right spot, your dentist will use a special light beam to activate quick-drying chemicals in the cement. Then your dentist will clean up any leftover cement, evaluate your bite, and make any final adjustments.If your veneers don’t feel quite right in the first days after treatment, don’t worry: Like getting a new pair of shoes, there’s an adjustment period. You’ll most likely go in for a follow-up appointment to examine the placement, edges, and bite, as well as to make sure your gums are reacting well to the veneers. Back to top

What’s the Recovery Time for Porcelain Veneers?

The post-procedure experience is similar to getting a filling. Unless you’re sedated during the treatment due to high anxiety, you’ll simply feel numb from local anesthesia and your speech might be slurred for a couple of hours. You might have some sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, which should disappear in a few days.

While it’s entirely possible to return to work after the procedure, many dentists recommend patients have their veneers placed at a time when they can go home right afterward. “The only other recommendation I have is to be a little cautious about your diet,” says Manhattan dentist Gerry Curatola. He suggests patients start with softer foods and “gradually choose foods that are harder to chew, as there may be an adjustment phase.” Back to top

Can Veneers Be Removed?

Because some tooth structure and enamel are removed prior to placing veneers, this is considered an irreversible treatment. Veneers may be replaced, but removing them for good will leave your teeth permanently scarred, at high risk for damage, and unhealthy looking.

The only cases in which they may be removed is if prep-less veneers were used. However, as Laguna Niguel dentist Norman Huefner explains, these are used less than 1% of the time. Find out more about prepless veneers here. Back to top

What Are Common Side Effects and Complications?

Post-Procedure Side Effects

The placement of porcelain veneers is typically not a painful procedure, but you may have a few days of slight discomfort and sensitivity as your mouth gets used to the veneers. If this occurs, check with your doctor to see if they recommend taking an over-the-counter medication like Advil or Tylenol.

Aside from some mild post-procedure discomfort, there are very few other complications associated with the treatment. “Porcelain veneers can be one of the most successful treatments dentistry has ever offered,” explains Seattle area dentist Wendy Spektor. “If done correctly, veneers can last for years and create the most beautiful smiles.”

Possible Complications

Porcelain veneer failure can occur due to breakage or tooth decay, so it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene and treat your teeth gently. Don’t use abrasive toothpastes, bite your fingernails, chew ice, or use your teeth as a tool.

In rare cases, changes to your bite can occur after placement, which your dentist should easily be able to adjust. Back to top

What Else Do I Need to Know?

What’s the Difference Between Bonding, Veneers, and Crowns?

Bonding is a procedure in which a resin material is applied directly to the tooth. It’s intended to address minor issues and often needs to be replaced with a veneer a few years down the road. “Dental bonding will not last as long as a porcelain veneer, and when bonding fails, it may lead to further issues with the tooth,” says Philadelphia dentist Leonard Tau. “I treat bonding as more of a temporary fix and the veneer as a more permanent solution.”

Crowns are used in cases that are much more severe. These tooth-shaped caps are placed over the entire tooth to restore its shape, size, and strength, as well as protect it from further damage.

In short, veneers can be an intermediate option between bonding and crowns.

What Are Composite Veneers?

Unlike porcelain veneers, which are created in a lab and later bonded to your teeth, composite veneers are performed in a single treatment. The process involves resin being applied in “thin layers to the tooth and sculpted directly in the mouth,” explains Manhattan dentist Ryan Sellinger. “Composite veneers are used in situations where there is less severe chipping or discoloration of natural teeth.” Because composite veneers cost lost, they may also be used be used as a transitional step on the way to porcelain veneers.

Which Brand of Porcelain Veneer Is Best?

There are many porcelain veneer companies out there: Lumineers, Da Vinci, Empress, and others. RealSelf doctors agree that you shouldn’t get fixated on a particular brand. What’s most important is choosing an experienced dentist and trusting them to guide you in the right direction for your needs.

What Are Prepless Veneers?

Prepless veneers, like those made by Lumineers, are placed without removing any of the tooth’s enamel or structure, as is done with traditional porcelain veneers. “Prepless veneers are only for a very narrow range of cases, where you just want to close spaces or make the teeth appear bigger,” says Memphis dentist John Whittemore. “In most cases, we don’t want those things and prepless veneers will not look good.”

Can Veneers Be Whitened?

Porcelain veneers are incredibly color stable and shouldn’t change over time. They also can’t be bleached. If your veneers look like they’ve darkened, it’s probably an indication that something else is going on. “You either have leakage underneath the veneers or the natural tooth is turning dark under the veneers,” says Houston dentist Scott Young. “Either of these can only be corrected by replacing the veneers.”

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Nancy Lerch

The RealSelf Guide to Porcelain Veneers has been medically reviewed for accuracy by New Haven dentist Dr. Nancy Summer Lerch. Dr. Lerch is a board-accredited cosmetic dentist with more than 30 years of experience in smile design. She currently serves as a mentor and examiner for the accreditation process of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Learn more on her RealSelf profile.

Disclaimer: This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare professional. Your reliance on any information or content provided in the guide is solely at your own risk. You should always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare professional for any questions you have about your own medical condition. RealSelf does not endorse or recommend any specific content, procedure, product, opinion, healthcare professional or any other material or information in this guide or anywhere on this website.

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