Teeth can become dull or discolored for many reasons. The foods and beverages we enjoy, smoking, prescription drugs, and even aging can all make our teeth dull, yellow, or gray. Two ways of getting a brighter, whiter smile are teeth whitening and veneers. Knowing the differences between teeth whitening vs. veneers can help determine which is best for each individual case.
What are Whiteners?
Teeth whitening can be done at home with store-bought products, or at a dentist’s office. The over-the-counter options include special toothpaste, rinses, and whitening strips or trays. These treatments offer a do-it-yourself solution that is inexpensive. The results vary, and they don’t work for everyone.
For a more noticeable change, many people turn to their dentist for teeth whitening. The dentist uses a strong hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent to remove stains and brighten teeth. The treatments are quick and cause little or no discomfort.
What are Veneers?
A veneer is a hard coating that completely covers the front of an individual tooth. Because veneers are purely cosmetic, they are used only on the front most teeth that are visible rather than the molars situated toward the back of the mouth.
Veneers are made of either porcelain or composite filling material bonded directly to the tooth’s surface. With porcelain veneers, the dentist will make impressions of the teeth and the veneers are custom made for each tooth. Composite veneers are applied and then shaped or “sculpted” by the dentist. With either type of veneer, the patient receives a natural-looking, custom-made “shell” that covers each tooth.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: What Problems Can They Solve?
Teeth whitening treatments do exactly that—they whiten teeth. They tend to work best for yellowing and stains caused by food and drink. Some grey or brown discoloration is harder for typical bleaching solutions to eliminate. For more stubborn staining, veneers might be a better option. And with veneers, a patient can even choose the exact shade of white they would like their teeth to be.
But brightening teeth is just one of the uses for veneers. They can also fix issues like chipped or cracked teeth, uneven spacing and gaps, and crooked teeth. They are custom made “tooth covers,” formed to correct or cover up any irregularities.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: The Whitening Procedure
The in-office teeth whitening procedure is fairly simple. The dentist will first clean and examine the teeth. They will address any decay issues or cavities before the whitening process takes place. Once the teeth are clean, a bleaching agent will be painted onto the teeth, left for a time, removed, and then reapplied. The entire process takes about an hour, but multiple visits are usually needed to achieve the desired results.
For teeth whitening, dentists get better results than the products available at the local drugstore. This is because of the techniques and products available to dental professionals. Some of these include:
- Professional strength whitening gel (such as that used in the KöR whitening system or Bright Smile)
- Chair-side lamps to accelerate whitening (used in Zoom!, EZ White™, and other whitening systems)
- Chemically activated whiteners (such as in Opalescence Boost) that can replace lamps in case where sensitivity is an issue.
- Laser teething whitening (such as LaserSmile)
These products can potentially be dangerous is misused, which is why they are limited to professional use. Licensed dentists take special precautions to protect the mouth, gums, and eyes during these procedures. The benefit is that they are often quicker and provide more consistent results than at-home methods.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: The Veneer Procedure
Getting veneers put on is a more invasive procedure than having whitening treatments. To prepare the teeth for the veneers, the dentist has to remove some of the enamel from their surface. Since tooth enamel does not grow back, this process will permanently alter the teeth. The veneer is bonded directly to the tooth, taking the place of some of the enamel.
It is essential that a patient have healthy teeth and enamel before considering veneers. Removing some of the enamel from a tooth that is already compromised can be problematic. It is still possible to get cavities between and under veneers, so an already weakened tooth can be at risk.
For porcelain veneers, impressions are made after the enamel is removed. The impressions go to a lab where the veneers are made. Because this takes some time, the patient may get temporary veneers until their next appointment. At that visit, the dentist will bond the veneers to the teeth, and polish and fine-tune their shape for a natural feel and look.
With composite veneers, some of the enamel is removed, but it is generally less than with porcelain veneers. Once that is done, the dentist applies the composite material to the teeth. He then molds and shapes it to conform to the desired look and feel.
The entire process for veneers – both porcelain and composite – can take several hours and multiple appointments.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: How Long do they Last?
A patient might see improvement right away with teeth whitening. However, it doesn’t last forever. The dentist may prescribe the use of whitening trays at home to supplement the office procedure. Even then, it doesn’t last forever. Teeth that have been professionally whitened can still be re-stained over time. After a few years, the patient may need to return to have the process repeated.
Veneers, on the other hand, can last for upwards of 15 years. Although strong, they are thin and can be damaged. They can chip or come loose if a patient grinds their teeth or chews on hard items like ice or even their fingernails. The dentist can often repair the damage to a veneer, especially if it is made of composite material. Potential patients need to realize, however, that since some of the enamel is removed, getting veneers is not something that can be undone. If they come off or are damaged, they should be replaced.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: Comparing Cost
Comparing teeth whitening vs. veneers is really like comparing apples and oranges. They both can brighten a smile by eliminating discoloration, but that’s where the similarity ends. Veneers can solve many more issues than just whitening. Not only that, but veneers are a long-term solution, custom-made for each individual.
Keeping those factors in mind, it’s not surprising that veneers are much more expensive than teeth whitening. Some sources place the average cost of professional teeth whitening at about $650. Composite veneers can range from $200 to $1500 per tooth. Porcelain veneers can reach $950 to $2500 per tooth.
Teeth Whitening vs. Veneers: Which One is Right for You?
Veneers are costly but last a long time. They also can resolve a number of dental issues at once – chipped teeth, uneven spacing, and discoloration. But having them put on will permanently change the teeth’s enamel. There’s no going back.
Professional teeth whitening is routine, safe, and effective. The risks are minimal and the cost is reasonable. Depending on the type of discoloration, however, it might not work. The procedure won’t address issues like crooked teeth or gaps. And, you may have to have it done every few years.
Any cosmetic decision is best made by weighing the factors that are most important to the patient. Deciding on teeth whitening vs. veneers is no different. Discussing your options with your dentist will help you decide what makes the most sense for you.