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Porcelain Veneers

How long will your porcelain veneers last?

A Consultation with Dr. Mike Malone

Woman smiling with porcelain veneers

Dear Doctor,
I want to improve my smile for my upcoming birthday celebration. My dentist has suggested veneers for my front teeth which are quite discolored. I don't want to be shortsighted or just get them for vanity. I really want to know how long they'll last?

Dear Shannon,
If your teeth are discolored, veneers are probably a good way to go. In cases of severe tooth discoloration which are generally caused by “intrinsic” staining (staining to the tooth structure itself); as in teeth that are non-vital (when the living pulpal tissue in the center of the tooth has died), discoloration caused by fillings, tetracycline antibiotic staining and other reasons, your dentist may recommend that your teeth be whitened as best as possible before applying the veneers to enhance the result.

If your dentist is recommending veneers, we can assume that the teeth cannot be evenly whitened or matched by other means. Porcelain laminate veneers are among the most aesthetic means of creating a more pleasing and beautiful smile. They allow for the alteration of tooth shape, size and in your case color. They require a minimal amount of tooth preparation (reduction) and are, therefore, a more conservative restoration than crowns, which requires significant removal of healthy tooth structure. Although not the only alternative for all aesthetic abnormalities, they are truly a remarkable restoration when they are indeed the treatment of choice. Simply stated, a veneer is a thin layer of dental restorative material, usually made of porcelain, that replaces enamel and which is bonded on to the remaining underlying tooth.

Porcelain Veneers Before Porcelain Veneers After
Example 1: An example of how porcelain veneers increase the length of a patient's front teeth while closing spaces and dramatically improving the smile.
Porcelain Veneers Before Porcelain Veneers After
Example 2: The pre-treatment photograph (left) shows the patient with narrow front teeth resulting in spaces and an unattractive smile. A beautiful smile was created by establishing a normal tooth form and length.
Porcelain Veneers Before Porcelain Veneers After
Example 3: The pre-treatment photograph (left) shows discolored teeth and worn composite restorations. The post-treatment photograph (right) shows the aesthetic brilliance of porcelain veneers.
Photos provided by Dr. Mike Malone

Done properly, your dentist will first create a mock-up smile made of wax on models of your teeth. This is used to make “provisional” veneers at the preparation appointment. These provisional teeth, a plastic or composite material, are a real benefit of this technique because they can last for a few weeks to several months if necessary, creating, in effect, a “trial smile” so that you can see and evaluate changes before the final result. The provisional stage allows the exciting prospect of visualizing and trying the changes before they're made permanent. You can interact with your dentist through feedback and information before deciding upon the final veneer restorations and participate in choosing colors and shapes. A talented dental laboratory technician can exactly replicate the provisional teeth in the porcelain veneers. Veneers can make for wonderful tooth imitations by mimicking tooth enamel perfectly. The whole process may therefore take some time and you should allow two to three months to complete the process comfortably although they can be made in a shorter time frame.

Within reason, you can eat almost anything with veneers. Anything that tends to apply a hefty twisting movement to the veneers may cause them to break. Porcelain is a glass, and like glass it tends to shatter if bent. If you grind your teeth at night you may need to wear a night guard to protect your veneers.

Porcelain laminate veneers are among the most aesthetic means of creating a more pleasing and beautiful smile.

I don't think you're being shortsighted or just getting veneers for vanity; they are an excellent restoration for discolored teeth which can't be treated by other means. In addition, your question about longevity is appropriate and reasonable. Veneers can last from seven to twenty years or more. While the veneer itself is inert and non-living, the tooth or teeth to which they are attached and the surrounding gum tissues are living and may change. For example, gum line shrinkage may expose or reveal root surfaces. If a veneer comes off it can generally be rebonded to the tooth. If it chips it can sometimes be rebonded or otherwise replaced.

In the final analysis, veneers are a great idea and can help you obtain a beautiful smile for your birthday and possibly more than 20 years later!

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