Porcelain veneers (also referred to as dental veneers, dental laminates, porcelain laminates, or even simply tooth veneers) are custom-made wafer-thin shells of porcelain that are bonded onto the front side of teeth so to mask imperfections associated with their color, shape, size, or positioning.
Porcelain veneer technique is one of dentistry's more recent developments. Porcelain veneers were first introduced to the dental community in 1983.
If you were to inspect a porcelain veneer you might think that its appearance is somewhat reminiscent of a false fingernail. That's because just like an artificial fingernail a porcelain veneer is very thin and delicate. Characteristically porcelain veneers are less than 1 millimeter thick. That puts them on the same order of thickness as the credit card you have in your billfold. And in part because they are so thin, if you were to hold a porcelain veneer up to a light source you would find that it is at least somewhat translucent (light will pass through it).
Porcelain veneers can be a wonderful way to make changes or create enhancements for a smile but you need to understand that the process by which a dentist places porcelain veneers is not a reversible one. Once a tooth has had a porcelain veneer placed it will always need a dental veneer covering of some sort on it so to look right. This is because a small amount of enamel is trimmed from a tooth when it is prepared to receive a porcelain veneer. And because no porcelain veneer (or any dental restoration for that matter) can be expected to last forever you will have to anticipate that there will be other times in your life when your porcelain veneers will need to be replaced.
Along these same lines however, even though placing a porcelain veneer is not considered to be a reversible process the amount of tooth structure that must be trimmed away as a part of this procedure is much less than that amount required for other porcelain dental restorations such as a dental crown. And for this reason when the appropriate conditions exist for placing a porcelain veneer, this procedure would typically be considered to be the treatment of choice.
For some people a great part of their motivation to have porcelain veneers placed will be based on a desire to have whiter teeth. A person with this goal could have another dental remedy available to them which might provide them with equally satisfactory results, yet be less expensive and require less maintenance over the long haul.
For those people with a smile that is already pleasing with the single exception of the color of their teeth it seems that the use of some form of teeth whitening treatments should be investigated first. Of course even if the teeth whitening process does produce a satisfactory end result its whitening effect will fade as time passes by. But periodic touch up teeth whitening is certainly less of an ordeal (and less of a cost) than replacing an entire set of dental veneers.
Teeth whitening treatments of course will have no effect on the apparent shape or positioning of teeth and if these are important issues then quite possibly a set of porcelain veneers is indicated. Our point here however is that before you have any dental treatment performed, especially an irreversible one such as having porcelain veneers placed, you should have your dentist explain to you any and all other approaches that can give an even somewhat similar end result.
Porcelain veneers and dental crowns can often produce the same cosmetic end result but these two types of dental restorations are very different, as are the purposes they are intended to serve. A porcelain veneer can be expected to provide durable and lasting service for a dental patient but only when placed on teeth meeting the appropriate criteria.
Porcelain veneers are typically best suited for those situations where initially the tooth is still fairly intact (as opposed to having large portions missing due to fracture or decay) and when the tooth is not expected to be exposed to excessive loads (extreme chewing pressures or else tooth clenching and grinding habits). When some aspect of the ideal conditions for a porcelain veneer are (or are expected to be) exceeded then a dental crown is typically the preferred dental restoration. As you can imagine however, it is the dentist's place (as opposed to you or this website) to make a determination about which of these two procedures would be most appropriate for your particular situation.