Whenever I tell new acquaintances that I have four veneers and two dental implants, they always gaze at my smile with wonder and say, “Wow, I would have never been able to tell.” I’ve had my veneers for about nine years — a final step that ended a 20-year battle with my cleft palate. Thanks to my facial birth defect, some of my teeth grew in abnormally, while others just went missing altogether. The day I got my final veneers and implants shaped, polished, and bonded was a four-hour-long process, and I cried through the entire thing. Not because I was in pain, but because I was overjoyed with relief — I would finally have a full set of teeth I would be proud to laugh in.
Since that day nine years ago, I’ve noticed that my natural teeth have started to yellow with age, while my porcelain veneers remain pearly white. I’ll be honest and admit that I haven’t been as diligent as I could be about scheduling regular teeth cleanings or flossing consistently. Unfortunately, that negligence has manifested in the form of a mismatched mug.
Naturally, this sparked a curiosity within me regarding teeth whitening treatments. However, there was little information out there about how whitening affects veneers. Would a whitening strip make my veneers brighter, or cause my natural teeth to appear even whiter than my veneers? In the name of journalism, I tapped a handful of dentists to figure out how to keep my whole mouth pearly white, veneers included.
Let’s back up: What exactly are veneers?
They’re exactly what they sound like — a façade on the surface of your teeth. “Veneers are porcelain jackets placed on teeth to improve color and other issues,” explains Inna Chern, DDS, a dentist in New York City. “They are made from pressed materials and then placed in a high-temperature glaze oven for final luster.” Veneers can also be made from composite resin material (which is usually a less expensive and faster option), but typically, they are made from porcelain.
According to Dr. Chern, most veneers are made of porcelain, and general fees can range from $2,000 to $4,000 per tooth. For many, that cost can be prohibitive, which is why most people who get veneers don’t get them on every last tooth. “Typically, people who rebuild their smiles either just do the upper ten teeth, or the upper ten teeth and eight bottom teeth,” explains Brian Kantor, DDS, a dentist of Lowenberg, Lituchy, and Kantor℠ in New York City. “The ceramicist — the person who makes the veneers — is just as important as the dentist, because it takes real artistry to make the veneers look like real teeth.”
Okay, so what happens to your veneers when your teeth start to get yellow?
You don’t have to be too concerned about your veneers getting discolored. “The porcelain itself can’t stain, but plaque and other material can form a superficial stain,” explains Dr. Kantor. When you remove the stain, it will return the veneer to its original, bright white state, but it can’t get any whiter than that. For that reason, you can’t actually bleach or whiten dental work — including crowns, bonding, and veneers — the treatment just won’t affect the color.
If you can’t whiten your veneers, what can you do?
The best approach is to be proactive about having a brighter smile before you actually get your veneers placed on. One option, according to Dr. Chern, is to bleach your natural teeth as light as they can possible be. “Bleaching teeth before veneer work gets the teeth to their natural lightest shade — the lighter teeth require less drilling by the dentist (i.e. a thinner veneer) that bonds better to enamel,” says Dr. Chern. “The more shades you need to cover by a veneer, the more enamel removal is required by the dentist.” Plus, if your surrounding teeth are brightened up enough, they’ll match better with the veneers once they’re installed.
If you’re dealing with white veneers and yellow teeth ten years post-placement (like I am), opting to solely whiten your natural teeth is an option — just like you did when you first got your veneers.“If you have only a few veneers, and the surrounding teeth are natural, you can use whitening strips or do an in-office whitening treatment,” says Dr. Kantor. Remember, the effects of the whitening treatment on your natural teeth will fade as you drink tea, coffee, and wine or eat certain foods. “The porcelain veneers will not change color — therefore, the teeth will only be the same color at one point in time,” he adds. That is, unless you keep whitening them.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.]
To treat your teeth at home, you can try the Crest® 3D WhitestripsTM Glamorous White® Teeth Whitening Kit ($40), which firmly adheres to your teeth for 30 minutes to help gradually brighten your smile. You can also use a whitening pen, like tarte® Pearly Girl® Vegan Teeth Whitening Pen ($22), that contains gel in an easy-to-use brush-tipped pen that you apply directly to dull-looking teeth. Regarding in-office treatments, you have a few options, with one of the most popular picks being a system called ZOOM!®
“ZOOM! uses a power light instead of a laser, so there is less sensitivity. Today's power lights do not heat up the teeth as much [as a laser] and are more effective in bleaching the teeth,” explains Dr. Kantor. While in-office whitening can range from $450 to $800, ZOOM! whitening can cost a bit more — between $800 to $1,200, including custom take-home whitening trays.
Is there anything else I can do?
If you have veneers already, you likely know that you’ll eventually need to get them changed out. According to Dr. Kantor, they usually last anywhere from 5 to 10 years or more. (After that point, the porcelain may chip, crack, or just appear worn down.) However, your mileage may vary, depending on how well they were made and how well you care for them. To help keep them going up to 20 years, make sure you maintain them with regular dental cleanings and checkups. You should also wear any dental accessories that your dentist recommends. “Often, a dental guard is given to patients to protect teeth and ceramic from excess forces (especially for grinders and clenchers),” Dr. Chern adds.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you look at it in a time- and money-saving way), I probably have about ten more years before I need to replace my existing veneers. Until then, you can find me rocking whitening strips while watching my favorite Bravo® shows, while frequently taking advantage of the teeth whitening effect on FaceTune®.
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