A dental veneer is a thin layer of tooth-coloured material, custom-made to fit over the front surface of a tooth for purely cosmetic reasons, to improve the appearance of the tooth. One or more veneers may be used in exactly the same way that one or more false fingernails may be used to improve the appearance of your hands.
Dental veneers can be made to exactly match the colour of your natural teeth, so if you have one or more stained or discoloured teeth, veneers can be used to hide the discolouration. Chipped teeth can be made to look intact and worn teeth lengthened to give a more uniform looking smile. Small gaps between teeth, and black triangles between teeth caused by gum recession, can be hidden by fitting multiple veneers. Even teeth that are slightly crooked can be made to look straight and perfectly aligned, without undertaking orthodontic work (braces).
Veneers do not address any underlying problems with your teeth, they simply cover them. Crooked teeth may be better addressed by orthodontics or braces. Teeth that have been broken or weakened, by a very large filling for example, may need strengthening and in this case a dental crown may be a better solution. Your first step should always be a consultation with your dentist for their advice on the best treatment for your particular needs.
The most popular material for dental veneers is porcelain, which offers a natural-looking translucent appearance, is easily shaped and is very durable. Porcelain veneers are also known as ceramic veneers. A cheaper alternative may be made out of composite bonding materials, which are used in white fillings. However composite materials are less durable and more prone to staining. All these materials can be made to match the colour of your existing teeth to give an entirely natural-looking result.
The dental veneers may be made at a dental laboratory; or increasingly dental practices are investing in CAM/CAD in-house ceramic studios (CEREC), which can custom-produce high-quality ceramic veneers on-site in as little as nine minutes. This CEREC technology enables the dental practice to offer single-visit, same-day ceramic veneers which can be fitted within an hour.
Whichever method is used, your dentist will first prepare your tooth or teeth. Your dentist will use a "burr", which removes a thin layer (the same thickness as the veneer to be fitted) of the shiny outer enamel surface of the tooth. This roughens the surface so that the cement will form a strong bond to hold the veneer in place. A local anaesthetic may be used but this is often not necessary.
Once the tooth is prepared, if the veneers are to be made at a dental laboratory, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth to be sent to the laboratory, together with information on the required colour and shade. Your second appointment will be arranged for two to four weeks' time, when your dentist will fit the veneers in place to check that they are exactly right, before cementing or bonding them in place.
If your dentist uses the CEREC technique then instead taking manual impressions of your teeth, a digital impression is taken using a special camera. The CEREC CAD/CAM system is then used to design and make the veneers while you wait for immediate fitting.
The cost varies depending upon the material used and the complexity of the veneer; from £300 to £1500 per veneer. It is advisable to get a written estimate and treatment plan before beginning any dental treatment.
It is important to remember that although your dental veneers make your teeth look better, it's still your natural teeth underneath and they need just as much care as they always did. Maintaining good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist for regular check-ups are still important.
Porcelain veneers will often last up to ten years although veneers made from composite materials will not last so long. Your dentist will be able to advise on your particular case.