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I've made a lot of jokes about getting veneers, like that my new nickname would be George Washington or that if I were murdered and my body were ever found, my old dental records would be useless. But the decision to permanently alter my teeth isn't fodder for comedy—it's one I hold near and dear.
We all have our own qualms about our looks. For me, my teeth have always been a pain point. I never had braces growing up (a suggestion never made by my dentist despite some minor crookedness), and their shape was small and a bit jagged. Of course, these are all characteristics that stuck out like a sore thumb to me, but others insisted I was being hard on myself. In any event, I found myself hiding my teeth with my lips when I laughed or giving a meek, close-mouthed smile to strangers. I stopped showing teeth in pictures altogether. And with my wedding coming up in a few months, the anxiety grew about hiding my teeth on arguably the most-photographed day of my life, so I decided to "shop" around for my new smile. Keep reading to get the lowdown on my smile makeover.
What Are Dental Veneers?
Dental veneers are super thin custom-made shells that cover the front surface of teeth to improve the overall appearance of a smile.
"Veneers are synonymous with a 'smile makeover,' and we have many different tools to get the job accomplished," explains Michael Apa, DDS (the maestro behind my new smile). "Porcelain veneers are traditionally the restoration of choice because they are very conservative to the natural tooth structure. A porcelain veneer, however, is a type of dental restoration like a filling or a crown. Some teeth may need different restorations or even an implant or pre-orthodontia (braces) in order to accomplish the final goal, which is achieving a great smile. Who is a candidate? Anyone looking to improve their smile. Patients who aren't candidates are simply those who are happy with their smile."
Now let's talk about the cost. There are a lot of factors that affect the price tag, like your dentist's location (a dentist in Los Angeles probably charges more than one in rural America) and the type of veneers you're getting (composite, porcelain, or ultra-thin porcelain laminates). Composite veneers are the least expensive and can be made in-office, which cuts down on lab fees. These typically cost between $250 and $1500 per tooth. Porcelain veneers (the kind I got) are sturdier and need to be made in a lab. They cost about $500 to $2500 per tooth. Then for the laminates, which come from third-party companies like Lumineer and Vivaneer, these can cost around $800 and $2000 per tooth. Your dentist will determine which type is best for your case.
Benefits of Veneers
I visited a bunch of different dentists, one who even suggested we shave my teeth down to little pointed nubs and cover them with crowns (yikes!), and finally made my way to Dr. Apa, a serendipitous discovery if I've ever had one. He's responsible for some of the most beautiful smiles on the red carpet, and, lucky for me, I was able to have him work on my own smile. After evaluating my teeth and listening to my own hopes and dreams for their future look, Apa explained he'd apply veneers on the top and bottom of my teeth (10 on the top and four on the bottom front). This did not involve whittling the teeth down to nothing, but instead removing a bit off the front before placing a veneer about the thickness of a fingernail on top.
"Typically a very small amount of tooth structure is removed to make room for the veneer (we sometimes don't have to remove anything)," says Apa. "Before this step, however, we review the patient's smile to ensure that there is nothing else clinically wrong with the teeth or their bite. For instance, sometimes we use veneer inlays (a porcelain veneer attached to a porcelain filling) for a tooth that needs the facing covered as well as a cavity removed. It really gets into semantics, but most patients I treat are not simply getting straightforward veneers—it's usually a combination because I'm treating the dental disease along with the smile aesthetic."
What to Expect
I was hoping I'd be knocked out cold for the installation because nothing gives me the heebie-jeebies like the sound of teeth being filed, but instead I was given local anesthesia and gas. Explains Apa, "You can be [put to sleep], but I personally do not do it because I need my patients to be able to respond to certain things while I'm carrying out the procedure. It's where I carry out the design of their teeth in the temporary phase, and I need to see them moving to be able to make them seamlessly disappear into their face." So I took a deep breathe and reassured myself that everything was going to be okay.
During the consult, Apa's assistants took molds of my mouth to create the look of temporary veneers, which are sculpted using a liquid composite. Everything is taken into account when crafting your new smile, from the way you talk to the shape of your face so that it all works together seamlessly. At my next appointment, he applied the temporaries to my teeth (around a three-hour procedure, as the gums are being shaped and the real teeth underneath are being prepped), which I wore for about a week to test out. Then, I came back, and we discussed any changes I'd like to be made. More molds were taken, and then the final plan was sent to a ceramist to manufacture. The next appointment was around one to two hours wherein the final veneers were bonded to my teeth. Finally, I came back once more for a bite check and final approval.
There will be slight gum sensitivity and pain after the temporaries are put in, but the real pain can occur when you get the final veneers bonded. About 50% of people will experience something called "bonding sensitivity," which feels like that sensation you get when biting into something cold and feeling a sharp pain afterward. I was one of the unlucky ones to feel this intense pain but thankfully was given some painkillers to take immediately to help curb the sensation. My best advice is to do just as doctor Apa told me: Take painkillers as needed, rinse with warm salt water, then try to sleep, because trust me, you definitely won't want to be awake for this pain.
The day after the final veneer installation, the pain was gone (thankfully it's only supposed to last for the better portion of a day), but my gums were still red and sore from being cut, which you may experience as well. The healing time varies, but it could take a week or so for your gums to return to normal. To aid in the process, you may want to use a gum gel like Apa Beauty Apa Pink ($25), a nutrient-rich oral gel that nourishes and rejuvenates gums. You can also use a mineral rinse to strengthen the teeth.
So your new smile is in place, now what? This might come as a rude awakening, but just because you've got veneers doesn't mean proper dental health is no longer required. "Everything can and should be done the same after getting a smile makeover," explains Apa. "If they're done correctly, veneers should act as natural teeth do." And if you get a cavity, Apa explains that in order to drill a cavity on a tooth with veneers, you remove the cavity just as you would a natural tooth and repair with a porcelain filling.
"In good health, porcelain restorations can last anywhere from 15 to 20 years," says Apa. "Some people may keep them longer, but the trick is to change them before any cavities appear or wear begins occurring, which can destroy your natural teeth. The same is true for a filling or a crown."
"Anything put in your mouth has to be changed, as bacteria and acid will erode the teeth," explains Apa. "That's why it's so important to take care of your teeth, especially if you have a lot of fillings or veneers, because you can prolong the life span. Another reason veneers need to be replaced is from wear, shifting and/or gum recession. One thing that sometimes happens is patients will get a full smile makeover and then not follow up with regularly scheduled appointments for years, which are crucial to monitoring their progress. Teeth shift, grinding can occur, and your bite can shift over time, ruining your real teeth or your new, very expensive porcelain ones. Again, this is not just because they have veneers; it's because they're simply not taking care of their mouth in general and need to hit another reset button."
Thankfully, Apa says you do not have to change your eating and drinking habits, so you can continue with red wine and coffee, just drink sparingly (as you should anyway for pearly whites) and remember to consistently floss, brush, and rinse with a fluoride rinse to avoid staining and cavities.
The Final Takeaway
As you can see, the change is pretty dramatic. My smile is brighter, the teeth fill out my mouth much better, and my whole face has a different (read: better) look to it. In the days following my final veneers appointment, I found myself smiling much bigger and wider, being friendlier, and laughing bigger. They've completely changed my outlook more than I ever thought possible, and I couldn't be happier.
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