What’s the Difference Between Composite Veneers and Porcelain Veneers?

Video transcript provided below

Dr. CATRISE AUSTIN:  Hey, guys.  It’s Dr. Catrise Austin, the “Queen of Smiles.”  I am here in sunny California with one of my favorite dental labs.  This is Gil from Frontier Dental Laboratory here in California. 

GIL:  Very good.  Thank you, Dr. Austin.  Well, I feel like I’m with royalty, and here being the “Queen of Smiles,” it certainly feels that way.  And we’ve always admired each other’s work and to have the opportunity to work together ‑‑

Dr. AUSTIN:  Work together. 

GIL:  ‑‑ with Dr. Austin it’s just such a privilege and a pleasure for us.  And so today what we want to do is talk about our experiences from the top‑notch cosmetic doctor perspective and from our lab perspective.  So hopefully it’ll give you guys a ‑‑ a good feel for what happens.

Dr. AUSTIN:  And I get a lot of questions from you guys out there every day on Instagram and Facebook, so I wanted address some of the frequently asked questions that I get in my DMs. 

So the first one is from John.  He’s from New York City, and he wanted to know what’s the difference between composite veneers and porcelain veneers.  Because you see this on Instagram all the time, and what’s the big difference? 

GIL:  Okay.  Excellent question.  We get that too. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yeah. 

GIL:  Composite veneers ‑‑ think of it this way ‑‑ versus porcelain veneers, there’s really four factors.  It’s cost, aesthetics ‑‑ and cost typically is the most important one ‑‑

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yeah. 

GIL:  ‑‑ but we’ll cover that.  Cost, aesthetics, longevity, and durability.  So the cost of the veneer ‑‑ of composite veneers ‑‑ they’re done in your office.

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yes. 

GIL:  And it’s basically a composite material that ‑‑ it’s ‑‑ so it’s done in one visit, and the dentist is the one actually placing that; right? 

You know that better than I do.

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yeah.  It’s like a ‑‑ it comes in a putty form.  It’s like a fiber material.  And what I’ll do is I’ll take it and hand sculpt it to your teeth, shape it, make it look real nice, and then harden it with a lamp.  And so it’s only done in one visit, unlike porcelain veneers, which typically takes two visits.

GIL:  So I can talk about porcelain veneers.  With porcelain veneers it’s thin shells, and porcelain is porcelain.  Think of ‑‑ porcelain is glass, much like porcelain material, and the cost may be a little bit more until the beginning; right? 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yeah. 

GIL:  Because Dr. Austin has to make one appointment, send it to the lab.  The lab has to fabricate it to her exact specifications, and that’s where aesthetics will come in. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  And you’re literally hand sculpting it.  Like, ladies, if you’ve been to the nail salon, you know how we take that powder and then liquid and kind of design it?  That’s what they’re doing for each and every veneer that they make.  So there’s like hour ‑‑ how ‑‑ how much time do you guys take?

GIL:  It typically takes ‑‑ for a smile, we typically ‑‑ I actually factored this one time.  There’s typically 20 pairs of hands that have to touch that from the time you send it in.  So that’s the model room.  That’s the ceramist.  That’s all the different things. 

And so like you said, each one is done custom made.  So if you look at somebody with beautiful teeth that are natural, okay, you can see there’s a lot of colors.  Teeth aren’t white.  We can make ‑‑ and this is kind of a lab joke.  We can make Chiclets all day long.

Dr. AUSTIN:  All day long. 

GIL:  But that’s not what you want for your patients. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  You guys see them on Instagram and Facebook all the time. 

GIL:  Yeah.  So we can ‑‑ if you want a natural looking tooth ‑‑ let’s pretend this is my tooth ‑‑ you have to layer in all of those effects, and a ceramist has to take it, like she said, at the nail salon, every single little detail that is done with a ceramic has to look like something; right? 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yes. 

GIL:  Whether it’s, you know, translucency of the incisal edges, whether it’s a little bit darker at the top.  Those kinds of things.  So that’s where the artistry and the aesthetics comes. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  The artistry.

GIL:  Mm‑hmm.  So while the cost might be ‑‑ this is all related here.  While the cost might be more in the beginning, they actually last ‑‑

Dr. AUSTIN:  Longer. 

GIL:  ‑‑ more than two to three times longer.  So your typical veneers ‑‑ and a lot depends on your dentist, of course, but, typically, veneers last 10 to 20 years. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  That’s what we say.  And I always say they can last a lifetime ‑‑

GIL:  Or longer. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  ‑‑ if you take care of that.  And we’ll talk about that ‑‑

GIL:  Yeah. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  ‑‑ a little bit later too.

GIL:  So while the cost may be less up front,  if you think about over the lifetime of your smile and what you do ‑‑ you wear that smile every single day ‑‑

Dr. AUSTIN:  Every day. 

GIL:  ‑‑ it really doesn’t cost more.  Okay? 

Dr. AUSTIN:  It really doesn’t. 

GIL:  No.  So let’s talk a lit bit about aesthetics.  Okay?  I mentioned that we have to do that.  With porcelain, because when you’re doing it at the chair‑side, you don’t have the ability to layer in all the effects that we can at the lab. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Of natural teeth.  Yeah. 

GIL:  Right. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Mimic the lighting. 

GIL:  So we ‑‑ we have a ceramist who works there, and he works on all the teeth to make sure everything is harmonious.  Meaning, we don’t have one guy doing this and one guy doing that.  It’s one person that looks at the whole smile, the facial aesthetics, and the shape and the design of the smile.  So there’s a lot that goes into it.  We have the experience of doing that.  And so, aesthetically, a porcelain veneer looks more like a natural tooth. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  A real tooth. 

GIL:  Yeah. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  And that’s the one thing that I have a problem with the composites.  If you don’t have the right cosmetic dentist, they will be uniformly colored, and teeth aren’t just one color.  They may not mimic all the details, the fine details, that the ceramist that has years and years of experience and skill can do.  So ‑‑

GIL:  Yeah.  So I think we’ve convinced you that, aesthetically, a porcelain veneer will more than likely look more ‑‑

Dr. AUSTIN:  More ‑‑

GIL:  ‑‑ natural. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yeah.  If you’re going for natural ‑‑

GIL:  Yeah. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  ‑‑ the porcelain is going to be ‑‑

GIL:  It’s going to look like a tooth.  It’ll match your teeth better. 

Let’s talk about longevity and durability.  So when it comes to longevity, porcelain is a lot stronger.  If we’re just talking about if we take a bar of composite and a bar of porcelain, porcelain is a lot stronger than that.  However, when you bond the porcelain in on a tooth ‑‑ that’s what Dr. Austin does in her office ‑‑ it becomes very, very strong.

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yes. 

GIL:  And ‑‑ and a good analogy that I like to give is porcelain is glass, right, it’s a glass material.  It’s ‑‑ it’s like a tile.  Think of a tile of glass.  Okay?  If we have it here and we do that, it might break.  If we knock on it, it might break.  If we put it on the ground and put a little pebble underneath it and step on it, it might ‑‑ it’ll definitely break; right? 

But what if we took piece of glass and put it on the ground and put some cement on it and put it down and jumped up and down with all the force possible, what would happen?

Dr. AUSTIN:  We do it every day.

GIL:  Exactly.  And that what’s happens.  The tile that you walked into in your beautiful office, that’s on a piece of porcelain that’s on a substructure; right? 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yes, indeed.

GIL:  So that’s what’s we do now.  We’ve got to porcelain shell that’s very thing of ‑‑ made out of porcelain, and she’s going to show you here. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  This is ‑‑

GIL:  Hold this one up so they can see how thin it is. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  That is a crown.  Hold on. 

GIL:  There’s some veneers right there. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  All right. 

GIL:  So how many millimeters would you expect that to be? 

Dr. AUSTIN:  About .5 millimeters. 

GIL:  Yeah.  Barely a millimeter. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Like the thickness of a contact lens. 

GIL:  Exactly.  In fact, sometimes we call our ‑‑ our veneers contact lenses.  So imagine you take that tile or that veneer and Dr. Austin bonds it into the tooth, a lot of forces can go on there, and it’s going to be very, very strong.  And that’s why she said they can last a lifetime. 

Dr. AUSTIN:  Yes. 

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