Cosmetic dental veneers are a thin covering that is applied to the front and sides of teeth to whiten and straighten them. Caps or crowns, by comparison, completely encircle the visible part of the tooth. Cosmetic veneers can be used to lighten the color of teeth by covering the visible, natural tooth with a white, artificial material such as porcelain or resin. If there is a larger-than-desirable space between two teeth, a dental veneer can be placed on the side of the tooth to close the gap. Cosmetic dental veneers can be very thin, which means they usually do not create the appearance of overly large teeth that sometimes occurs with caps/crowns.
The three main types of cosmetic dental veneers are ceramic, resin, and minimal prep. Ceramic veneers, such as porcelain and laminates, resist wear (thinning), look like natural teeth, can be matched very well with surrounding teeth and are resistant to staining. On the downside, ceramic cosmetic veneers are expensive, require multiple visits for installation, and may crack because the materials can be somewhat brittle. Resin-based composite materials are less expensive than ceramics and can be applied in a single visit. Resin dental veneers resist cracking and can be repaired even if they do crack or wear. Unfortunately these cosmetic veneers can discolor and stain. Also, even when they are new, resin veneers may appear dull.
In both of these types of cosmetic dental veneers, the teeth are prepared ahead of time to accept the veneer material. This usually involves the application of an acid to eat away the outer surface of the tooth enamel. In the case of ceramic veneers, a mold is taken of the teeth and the veneers are produced in a dental laboratory. For resin veneers, the dentist more or less paints the veneer on the prepared tooth and polishes the area for size and finish.
As the name implies, minimal prep dental veneers do not have the etching preparatory step and are very thin veneers indeed. Since there is no etching, minimal prep veneers suffer from possibly appearing too bulky, as may occur with caps. On the bright side, the veneer can be easily removed since the enamel has not been etched. This makes minimal prep dental veneers reversible but less resistant to damage than other cosmetic veneers.
Cosmetic dental veneers can whiten and straighten smiles, but a smile makeover can only occur if the teeth are healthy at the start. Regular dental treatment, like the filling of cavities, must be done prior to dental veneer installation. If a tooth is completely missing, a bridge may be required. A bridge is a false tooth supported by a metal strip hiding behind the row of existing teeth. A more permanent solution to a missing tooth is a dental implant surgery. Dental implant surgery is a three step process in which a completely new, false tooth is anchored directly to the jaw bone. The dental implant can be color matched to the existing teeth or to the cosmetic dental veneers.