Dental veneers are artificial additions to the teeth. They are made of porcelain or resin and are usually permanently bonded to the teeth, although removable veneers are also manufactured.
They can be used for therapeutic purposes to protect and reinforce damaged tooth enamel, but they are also used cosmetically to instantly whiten your smile and repair crooked teeth without braces.
Porcelain veneers differ from dental crowns in that crowns usually cover the entire tooth while veneers cover the front (visible) side of the tooth.
The most important factor in determining whether you can get veneers is having healthy teeth and gums. If you have cavities, damaged teeth, or gum disease, get them fixed before you even think about getting veneers.
Your teeth must also have strong enamel. If they don't, the veneers will not be able to bond properly.
Another factor is the way your teeth meet. If your lower jaw is more prominent than your upper, it may be difficult for you to get veneers because they can be easily damaged by that kind of bite.
Veneers are not as tough as tooth enamel, so if you grind your teeth, you should not get veneers -- it's too easy for them to get chipped, cracked, or worn down.
Depending on the structure of your mouth, you may need to wear a guard at night to protect the veneers. Your dentist will be able to tell you more about this.
In the traditional procedure, the dentist will need to grind down your teeth before attaching the veneers.
This requires anesthesia and can be painful. Your teeth will probably be sensitive for about a week afterwards, but you should be able to eat and drink normally after that time.
Traditional porcelain veneers are not reversible: if you don't like them, you cannot simply take them out.
Some dentists prefer "prep-less" veneers, which are extremely thin shells (about as thick as a contact lens) fitted to the teeth.
These are much easier to get: they require no anesthesia and no drilling, and can be removed if necessary. However, badly applied prep-less veneers can also make your teeth look unnaturally thick.
Veneers do not last as long as your original teeth. You will need to plan to replace them in about 10 years, depending on the type you have and how well you care for your teeth.
Dental insurance will not usually pay for cosmetic veneers. The cost can vary widely based on the product you choose, where you live, and the skill of your dentist.
The American Dental Association cites an average cost of $800 to $2,000 per tooth. Resin veneers are cheaper, at $250 to $1,500 per tooth, but they also wear out faster than porcelain veneers.