Veneers, Teeth Whitening, Composite Fillings, Inlays and Onlays

There are many reasons our teeth can change in appearance over our life. Sometimes it’s an inherited trait, such as if there’s a family history of gaps, misaligned teeth, or blemishes. Other times it’s environmental, such as chips and cracks from damage, or staining from food, drink, or smoking. And then there are situations where existing cosmetic restorations have broken down or simply reached the end of their effective life.

Whatever the underlying reason, for every cosmetic dental problem there are a host of treatments to address it.

Types of Veneers

Dental veneers are one of the most versatile cosmetic treatments available in dentistry. They can reshape teeth, close gaps, restore chips and cracks, and even be used as a teeth whitening method. They’re also a more conservative method than crowns for teeth where the underlying tooth structure is still strong.

Veneers themselves are thin sheets of material bonded onto your teeth. The simplest way to think of them is as a fake nail for your teeth.

Veneers can be broken down into several types, depending on the material they’re made out of and the method used to apply them to the teeth.

Porcelain Veneers

Porcelain veneers are the gold standard for veneer restorations. Porcelain is very similar to teeth in terms of colour, feel, and texture. They’re sturdy, long-lasting, and stain resistant.

Composite Veneers

Composite veneers are made out of a material called dental composite, which is a special mixture of resin and glass. Composite veneers aren’t as tough or long-lasting as porcelain veneers, but they are cheaper and can be applied in a single visit instead of two.

Direct vs Indirect Bonding

Bonding refers to how the veneer is applied to the tooth.

Direct bonding is only an option for composite veneers. The veneer is created by applying layers of composite resin paste directly to the tooth and hardening it with a special heating device — hence, “direct” bonding. This allows composite veneers to be made and bonded in a single visit to the dentist.

Indirect bonding involves several trips to the dentist, and can be done with either porcelain or composite veneers. A thin layer of tooth, about the thickness of a fingernail, is shaved off to allow space for the veneer. An impression is then made of the teeth from which the veneers are designed and created. At a later appointment, the newly created veneers are then bonded to the teeth.

Porcelain veneers can only be indirectly bonded to the teeth, as they must be made in a lab before they can be bonded.

Porcelain vs. Composite Veneers – Which is Better?

Porcelain and Composite Veneers have their own strengths and weaknesses. Your dentist will discuss which option is best for you based on your situation.

  • Porcelain veneers are stronger and longer-lasting than composite veneers.
  • Porcelain veneers are stain resistant, while composite resin can stain much more easily.
  • Composite veneers are much cheaper.
  • Composite veneers can be direct bonded to teeth, allowing them to be applied in a single sitting.
  • Neither porcelain nor composite veneers can really be repaired if they break, but it’s easier to replace a composite veneer than a porcelain one.

Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is perhaps the most common form of cosmetic dentistry in the world. Generally teeth whitening works using a type of bleach, although today there are several variations such as laser whitening and Zoom! by Phillips.

Teeth whitening can be broadly broken down into two categories: in-chair (or “in office”), and at-home.

In-Chair Teeth Whitening

In-chair teeth whitening refers to getting your teeth whitened at a dental clinic, either by a dentist or dental hygienist. In-chair whitening is the fastest method, and can brighten teeth by 5-7 shades in 1-2 hours.

Take-Home Whitening

Take-home whitening refers to personal kits you can take home from the dental clinic to use at your leisure.

Take-home whitening kits from a dentist are not the same as whitening kits you might buy at a pharmacist. The whitening agent is typically stronger, and your dentist will create a custom whitening tray that better fits your teeth for more effective whitening.

Teeth Whitening and Sensitivity

Teeth whitening is generally not recommended for patients with overly sensitive teeth, as it will cause some noticeable discomfort. Some whitening methods such as Zoom! are friendlier to sensitive teeth, but your dentist will advise you on the best course of action to take.

Teeth Whitening Effectiveness

It’s best to think of teeth whitening like getting a tan — if you spend time in the sun or on a tanning bed, you’ll get a tan. How much you tan, however, will change depending on the individual. So everyone will have noticeably whiter teeth after teeth whitening, but not everyone will experience the same level of whitening.

Some blemishes will not improve. Staining from tea, coffee, or smoking will be best treated, but black or grey blemishes on teeth will only slightly whiten.

Composite Fillings

Composite fillings are an ideal cosmetic replacement for traditional amalgam fillings. Composite fillings are made of the same composite resin that composite veneers are made out of, and are used the same as any other filling medium to fill cavities in teeth.

The biggest benefit of composite fillings is that they can be coloured to match the surrounding tooth. This makes them very discrete and almost unnoticeable in many cases.

There are some disadvantages to composite fillings, however. On larger cavities they wear down faster than amalgam, and they typically cost more per filling.

Inlays and Onlays

Inlays and onlays are used to fix chips and cracks in teeth. They can be made out of a variety of materials such as amalgam, composite, porcelain, or even gold.

Inlays and onlays function the same, but differe depending on what part of a tooth they fix. An inlay restores the part of a tooth between the cusps — the pointed ridges on your canines and molars. Onlays restore the cusps themselves if they’ve been chipped or cracked off.