What are dental veneers?
Most people have dental veneers to improve the appearance of their teeth and smiles. The cosmetic effect can be dramatic, with changes in shape, form, size and colour all contributing to a beautiful makeover.
Dental veneers are thin, hollow shells of porcelain or composite (filling material) that are placed over your natural teeth for two reasons — to enhance the aesthetics of your smile, and to protect the underlying tooth.
There are two types of dental veneers: porcelain and composite. Porcelain veneers are made in a dental laboratory by a technician and can potentially very closely resemble the luster and translucency of a natural tooth, and they are usually quite strong and hard wearing.
They also tend to be more expensive than their composite counterparts, which are generally built up using layers of tooth-coloured filling material while the patient is in the chair. This means composite veneers can be done in just one visit, which helps reduce the cost. On the downside, however, composite doesn’t tend to look quite as good (this is subjective), or last quite as long as porcelain.
With a dental veneer, between 3-30% of the natural, underlying tooth’s surface is sacrificed in preparation to accept the veneer, which is like a shell that sits over the top of the tooth (thus taking up space) and also needs to firmly adhere. For this reason, Dentists and their patients alike need to think carefully about whether or not this treatment is appropriate.
One benefit of dental veneers, is that they can protect the underlying teeth against the onset of dental caries. More commonly referred to as cavities or simply tooth decay, caries is caused by bacteria, which produce acid that in turn wears through the teeth, causing holes. Having said this; veneers are by no means a silver bullet in preventing cavities.
Can I still get cavities after dental veneers?
Unfortunately, yes. One of the commitments any patient makes when they decide to get dental veneers, is to ongoing good oral hygiene.
It is estimated that after 10 years, some 50% of dental veneers fail in some way — they may dislodge, wear down (for example, from grinding of the teeth), or otherwise need revision. Good oral hygiene can help prolong the life of your veneers.
The most important aspects are routine flossing and brushing, combined with scale and clean with your Dental Hygienist. While the porcelain (or composite) that makes up your veneers cannot decay, the underlying teeth certainly can, and the teeth are vulnerable wherever they are exposed (at the back and sometimes the sides) and also where they contact the veneers themselves.
Dental veneers are not performed on patients with high decay risk, so if your dentist or specialist prosthodontist recommends veneers as a treatment option for you, you can be assured that you are a low-risk caries patient. Also, porcelain dental veneers have been shown to resist decay, providing you brush with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and regularly use a fluoride mouthwash.
Another reason decay rates are lower with dental veneers is that they are in the front of the mouth, making them easier for the patient to clean and self-check.
In the unlikely event that you do experience decay after a tooth has been veneered, the decay will be easy to fill with tooth-coloured bonding if the veneer is relatively new. In older dental veneers it would be best to replace the veneer.
Are you considering dental veneers?
Straighter teeth can potentially be achieved with orthodontics, such as Invisalign. Whiter teeth may be possible with Zoom! in chair whitening or take home whitening trays and gel. On the other hand, severely damaged teeth may be more suited to buildups with crowns or even the use of a dental bridge, rather than veneers.
Your best course of action is a consultation with your Dentist, who will work to understand your goals and can advise on all your treatment options, as well as their respective pros and cons.