If you’ve always wanted to improve your smile, dental veneers might be a good choice for you.

Veneers are thin shells that fit over the front of your existing teeth to improve their appearance. Veneers are just one of several ways to alter the appearance of your teeth.

Tooth bonding and enameloplasty are other options, as well as crowns.

There are 2 main kinds of veneers: porcelain and composite. As you’d expect from the name, porcelain veneers are custom made of porcelain to fit your teeth. Composite veneers are often made from a tooth-colored resin, the same type of material used with tooth bonding.

There are pros and cons for both types of veneers, so it’s important to consider the level of the issue you hope to solve with veneers, as well as your budget.

Dental veneers can cover up tooth imperfections and give you an even, bright smile.

Imperfections can include teeth that are crooked or misshapen, chipped, stained, or discolored, or maybe the enamel on your teeth has eroded.

Veneers cover part of your teeth but they’re actually different from crowns, which are thicker and cover an entire tooth — back and front. Crowns also tend to require more trimming of the tooth, which you may or may not need with veneers.

If your teeth are in relatively good shape, and you just want to change their appearance, including their shape or color, veneers may be a good choice.

Crowns are usually only used for teeth that are more damaged. For example, if you have a broken tooth or need a root canal, a crown may be a better solution.

A dentist may offer you a choice between 3 types of veneers: direct composite veneers, indirect composite veneers, and porcelain veneers.

Direct composite veneers

Direct composite veneers are veneers made of a composite resin material applied directly to your teeth.

It doesn’t take very long for a dentist to prepare your teeth for application of the veneers, and the application process is considered minimally invasive.

Indirect composite veneers

The main difference between direct and indirect composite veneers is the application process — not the actual material used.

Your teeth are prepped as they would be for direct composite veneers, but the veneers are custom made ‘indirectly’ outside of the mouth in your dentist’s office or in a dental laboratory.

You’ll receive a set of temporary veneers until the indirect veneers are made. At the next appointment, the indirect composite veneers are applied on your teeth with a layer of adhesive.

Indirect composite veneers can withstand more abrasions and resist fractures better than the direct version. They tend to cost more than direct composite veneers, however.

Porcelain veneers

Porcelain veneers are custom made for your teeth out of porcelain.

A dentist will make impressions of your teeth, so the veneers can be made from the mold in the dental lab, a process that might take a week or longer. You’ll receive a set of temporary veneers while you wait, just like with the indirect composite veneers.

When ready, the dentist will cement the thin porcelain shells to the front of your teeth and shape them to look as natural as possible.

There are pros and cons to both kinds of veneers. You’ll want to carefully weigh the benefits and downsides before you make your choice.

Pros: Composite veneers

  • lower cost
  • shorter application process if direct veneers
  • can cover up many aesthetic problems, including misshapen teeth, discolorations, and other defects
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Cons: Composite veneers

  • material is weaker than porcelain and may chip often
  • will need to be replaced or repaired more frequently than porcelain veneers
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Pros: Porcelain veneers

  • longer lasting because of stronger material
  • custom made
  • provides a more natural appearance
  • can fix darker stained teeth or more incorrectly positioned teeth than composite veneers
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Cons: Porcelain veneers

  • most expensive type of veneer
  • application process requires more than one visit
  • porcelain veneers can fall off and may need to be re-glued on your teeth
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Your dentist will start the process by cleaning your teeth thoroughly and preparing them for the application.

Your dentist may have to remove a thin layer of your enamel to help the material stick to your teeth. Sometimes, your teeth don’t need to be cut if minor changes to shape or color are needed.

After, the process will differ slightly, depending on whether you’re getting direct or indirect veneers.

Before applying direct veneers, a dentist will etch the enamel of your teeth to help with adhesion.

Next they’ll apply an adhesive glue to help the composite resin material stick to your teeth. Lastly, very thin layers of the composite material are added to the surface of your teeth.

The dentist will “cure” or quickly harden the layers of the composite resin with a light.

You and your dentist are able to pick the shade or color you want for your veneers. Your dentist can mix composite resin colors to make your veneers look natural.

With indirect veneers, after the dentist prepares your teeth, they’ll take a mold of your teeth.

Indirect veneers are fabricated outside of your mouth. When the indirect veneers are ready, the dentist will apply them by etching your teeth and then applying a type of adhesive material to your teeth. This adhesive or bonding agent will help the veneers stay in place.

Then they’ll place the composite veneers onto your teeth. They’ll use a light to harden the adhesive and glue the veneers to the teeth. Afterward, the dentist will clean up any stray edges and polish everything up.

Many people don’t need anesthesia during the process. But if you do, once the anesthesia wears off, you should be fine to return to work or other normal activities.

Composite veneers are considered more durable today than in the past. They can last 5 to 7 years, on average.

After that, you’ll need a replacement set of veneers. That’s a substantially shorter life span than a set of porcelain veneers, which might last at least 10 or 15 years.

You may be able to extend the life of your composite veneers by taking good care of them.

Embrace a routine of regular brushing with a nonabrasive toothpaste, and resist any urge to chew on ice and other hard objects with your front teeth.

Some dentists also suggest that you watch out for drinks like coffee or tea that might stain your new veneers.

You will notice a significant difference in your teeth’s appearance after the application of veneers.

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Veneers can dramatically improve the appearance of teeth that are crooked, broken, or chipped, or that have large gaps in between.

Composite veneers can easily be removed and repaired or replaced by adding new composite material.

Cost is a factor that you’ll want to consider. Veneers aren’t inexpensive.

The application of veneers is a time-consuming process, for one thing. For another, you want high quality materials and high quality work that will last. After all, everyone will see the results as soon as you open your mouth.

Although less expensive than porcelain veneers, composite veneers can still be pricey.

The cost for composite veneers will vary, based on where you live, where your dental work is performed, and how many veneers you need.

Composite veneers could set you back between $250 to $1,500 per tooth.

Who pays? Probably you. If you’re just hoping to improve your smile’s appearance, you’ll probably have to pay the entire bill, since insurance often doesn’t cover cosmetic dentistry procedures.

However, if your tooth is damaged, your insurance may cover part or all of the cost.

If not, and the cost is a concern, speak to a dentist about setting up a payment plan. You might even get a discount for having a certain number of veneers applied at once.

If you’ve become self-conscious about your smile, dental veneers could be a great choice for you. They’re essentially a semi-permanent solution to imperfect teeth.

Since veneers — even composite veneers — are relatively expensive, take the time to explore your options and the pros and cons of each one before you decide. Talk to a dentist about the best choice, too.