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For a Smile That Dazzles Think Veneers

Professional models do it. Actors and actresses do it. Even politicians do it. They're changing their smiles—and they have influenced a growing number of people to take the same step by asking dentists to give them veneers.

Simply put, a veneer is a covering, something like the thin layer on a piece of furniture that gives it the look of natural wood.

When it comes to your teeth, a veneer refers to a thin covering usually made of porcelain. How thin? "Porcelain veneers are about the thickness of a fingernail," explains cosmetic dentist Ronald E. Goldstein, D.D.S. He traces the first porcelain veneers to 1981.

"In most cases, we cover the front of the tooth and a little bit of the sides," adds Dr. Goldstein, cofounder of the American Academy of Aesthetic Dentistry and author of the book Change Your Smile. "This is a very exciting area of dentistry that is increasing in popularity. A smile is such an important thing. It does so much for us."

A better look

The president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) agrees. "Properly done veneers help people look better. It makes them more attractive, which makes them more self-confident," says Marty Zase, D.M.D., M.A.G.D.

Cosmetic dentists such as Drs. Goldstein and Zase use veneers to fix a variety of problems. Teeth could be too short, too far apart, misshapen, or damaged. But the most common reason for veneers is discoloration.

Many things cause discoloration:

  • Smoking

  • Coffee

  • Tea

  • Red wine

  • Blueberries (eaten in high quantities)

  • Certain antibiotics (in some cases, even a single dose)

  • Aging

"Our teeth become darker and shorter as we age," explains Dr. Goldstein. "It's a different amount for each individual. Around age 40, some new patients will say, 'My gosh, my smile is gone.'"

Color changes

Over time, teeth become darker internally and wear down externally, making them appear even darker.

"We use porcelain because the color is more stable and it lasts longer than composite resin," Dr. Goldstein says. "Porcelain usually lasts between five to 12 years, while composite resin usually lasts about three to eight years."

Still, there are some reasons patients choose composite resin. It's less expensive than porcelain veneers.

"I recommend that patients make a list of the things they like and don't like about their smile, and what they'd like to change," says Dr. Zase. "Stand in front of a mirror and make the biggest smile you can make. Get a good look at the number of teeth that show." He believes that is the number of veneers you should do.

Some patients ask about doing their upper teeth at one time and their lower teeth later to spread out the cost. Although this is an option, patients should be aware that the construction of their veneers is done entirely by hand, and optimal color matching will occur when both arches are treated simultaneously. The cost of veneers varies widely according to the region of the country and according to the experience of the dentist. Your general dentist might have experience with veneers or might refer you to a cosmetic dentist.

This procedure "can produce results that really please the patient," Dr. Goldstein says. "Think it through and choose a professional who gets the type of results that you're looking for."

How to care for your veneers

If you decide to invest in your smile with veneers, will special care be necessary after you get them?

"Patients are told about the importance of home care, and they really need to know how very important that is," emphasizes Dr. Zase. "They're protecting their investment in their mouth, in themselves."

Here are some tips offered by Drs. Zase and Goldstein:

  • Keep the edges of your teeth clean.

  • Use a softer toothbrush and brush more slowly.

  • Increase the number of teeth cleanings at the dentist's office from two to three times a year. Tell the hygienist that you prefer ultrasonic scaling to hand scaling.

  • Use a mouth guard when you sleep to protect your veneers if you grind or clench your teeth.

  • Use a mouth guard when playing sports in which there is a chance you might be struck in the mouth by a ball, a stick, someone's elbow, or other object.

  • Do not use veneered teeth as a tool: Do not climb a ladder with a screwdriver in your mouth. Do not open pistachios or other nuts with your teeth. Do not break a piece of thread off by biting it. Do not chomp on hard candy or chew ice. "Not using your teeth as a tool is also great advice even if you don't have veneers," Dr. Zase says.