How Are Dental Veneers Installed?

A veneer is a thin shield of porcelain that is used to cover the front surface of a tooth. Veneers are designed as a permanent way to change or enhance the look of stained, chipped, broken, or undesired teeth.

Dentist and patient with tooth veneers
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

To get a veneer, you'll very likely need to see your dentist at least two times. Here is what you can expect during a typical veneer preparation and installation procedure.

The First of Many Impressions

Similar to most restorative dental procedures, impressions of your teeth are taken before, during, and in some cases after the final placement of the veneers.

The impressions were taken before your veneer appointment are used to make a stone replica of your teeth. This stone cast may be sent to the dental laboratory to assist the lab tech when fabricating the final veneers, or to create a wax-up — a replica of what the final veneers will look like.

The wax-up may be used to create a temporary set of veneers that you'll wear during the time when your permanent veneers are being made.

Choosing a Shade

Choosing the shade of the veneers is an exciting step for most people. The final shade is determined by your request for a certain result, along with the dentist's recommendations.

Your dentist will recommend a shade that she feels will best appear as natural as possible, while still giving you the look of attractive, flawless teeth. The shade can be customized to your skin tone and to your overall desire for whiter teeth.

It may be necessary for you to visit the dental laboratory that is making your veneers since they are able to do a very customized shade analysis. Not only are the lab personnel looking for the best shade for your individual skin tone, but they may also be trying to match the veneer to the shade of the surrounding teeth. This task is especially important to ensure the natural look of the veneer remains consistent.

Preparing Your Teeth

Veneers require very little removal of the enamel surface of the tooth. The prep work required will generally depend on the type of veneer used, position of the teeth, or your dentist's preferred method of preparing the tooth.

You may or may not require a local anesthetic for the appointment. Teeth that have been root canaled or teeth that require very little preparation may allow you to avoid the need for anesthetic. Your dentist will use the high-speed handpiece to contour the front surface of the tooth.

Impressions of the prepared teeth are taken inside your mouth using a very precise impression material that starts out as a thick paste. The impression material is filled into a tray and placed on the teeth. The dental assistant will likely hold the impression tray in your mouth until the material sets, usually after three to five minutes.

An impression of how your teeth bite together is also taken. Impression material is applied to the biting surface of the bottom and top teeth. You will be asked to bite down into the material for one to two minutes until the material is set, depending on the brand used. If the dentist is satisfied with all of the impressions, they then are delivered to the dental laboratory.

Temporary Veneers

The dentist or dental assistant will construct a set of temporary veneers made from an acrylic material that will be cemented onto your teeth with temporary cement. These temporary veneers will resemble your natural teeth, but may not appear as white as the final set of veneers and may feel rougher than your naturally smooth enamel.

These temporary coverings will help protect the teeth from sensitivity, but keep in mind they are just as their name indicates: temporary. You should avoid the following with your temporary veneers:

  • Biting into or chewing hard and food
  • Gum and sticky candy should be avoided
  • Using the prepared teeth to open or tear non-food items
  • Biting your nails
  • Food or beverage that contains deep pigments that will stain the acrylic

Your New Smile

The veneers will return after seven to 10 business days. They will be placed on your teeth without any cement so the dentist can inspect them for any obvious flaws. Your final approval will give the go-ahead for the dentist to permanently cement the veneer to the tooth's surface with a dental resin.

If you had a local anesthetic for the first appointment, it may be necessary for this appointment as the teeth need to be cleaned with water and prepared with a solution called acid etch that microscopically roughens the surface of the tooth. This is necessary to achieve the best adhesion of cement to your teeth. As mentioned, your teeth will be prone to sensitivity and since the correct placement of the veneers is paramount, local anesthesia may be a benefit to both you and the dentist.

The cement is placed on the back of the veneer and then placed onto your tooth. A bright light known as a curing light may be used to harden the cement. Any excess hardened cement is removed from the teeth.

The dentist will check how your teeth bite together to ensure you're not biting incorrectly onto the veneers. Small reductions of the opposing teeth may be necessary if the bite is not correct.

Caring for Your Veneers

Although veneers are designed to allow you to function normally, you may want to consider trying not to bite into hard food with your front teeth, or to use your teeth to open difficult items, because the veneers may chip or break.

Occasionally, you may have foods and beverages like red wine, tomato sauce, grape juice, and tea or coffee. But keep in mind that the porcelain material can pick up stain from deeper pigmented foods and beverages. And unlike our natural teeth, veneers cannot be whitened with tooth whitening gels.

Your dentist may recommend the use of a night guard while you're sleeping. This will protect your lower teeth from the effects of the porcelain grinding on the enamel. Even if you do not knowingly grind your teeth, porcelain is damaging to enamel during even slight grinding of the teeth.

Veneers are designed to last between 10 to 15 years. Regular cleanings from your dental hygienist are still recommended, along with regular dental checkups.

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.