Porcelain veneer alternatives.

- Dental bonding, tooth bleaching and orthodontic treatment each offer their own advantages.

What alternatives are there to veneers?

A set of porcelain laminates can make a nice improvement for a smile. But having them placed does come with considerations and consequences (as discussed here).

Remember, this is not a reversible procedure.

When a veneer is made for a tooth, a noticeable amount of enamel is trimmed from its front side.

And that means that once your tooth has undergone this process, it will never again look right unless its laminate remains in place (or else some other type of dental restoration is made for it).

That's why alternatives should always be considered.

So, and especially in the case where you're considering having this procedure performed just to perfect an already pleasing smile, you owe it to yourself to first learn about those alternatives that may be able to provide a somewhat similar change.

A tooth that's been trimmed for porcelain veneer placement.

Picture of a tooth that has been preped for veneer placement.

(While the amount is small it's not insignificant.)

These include:
  1. Teeth whitening treatments.
  2. Microabrasion technique.
  3. Orthodontic treatment.
  4. Esthetic tooth recontouring.
  5. Dental bonding / Composite veneers.

(In terms of what most dentists would consider the most "ideal" treatment approach for your teeth, the above options should probably be considered in the order we've listed them.)

These may not be exact equivalents.

By the way, we're not suggesting that these substitutes can necessarily give the same perfect look like a set of veneers frequently can.

But settling for a slightly less than perfect result, when combined with advantages such as lower initial cost, lower long-term maintenance costs, less tooth structure loss, or providing a treatment outcome that has greater longevity, may make one of these alternatives look quite attractive.

Other procedures that might be considered.

1) Tooth-bleaching treatments.

Whitening treatments can be performed by your dentist in their office or else on your own at-home. Either method can be expected to create a similar end result.


1) This approach will only provide a color change for your teeth, so if their alignment or shape isn't already pleasing, it's not a solution.

2) Bleaching results can be unpredictable and they take time and effort to achieve (especially if you're performing treatments on your own).

[Even when the outcome is uncertain or disappointing, veneer cases can typically benefit from whatever whitening effect has been achieved. A need to create a smaller color shift typically allows for more lifelike (translucent) veneer construction.]

3) The whitening results you get will tend to relapse over time and will need to be renewed.


This is the most conservative way to remove tooth discolorations (the integrity/structure of your teeth remains unchanged). Long-term maintenance (touch-up treatment) is simple.

Cost Comparison

Whitening treatments should provide substantial savings over veneers initially. There is the question of how frequently touch-up work will be required. But especially in the case where an at-home method is used, even with this cost factored in this approach can be expected to be far less expensive.

2) Microabrasion.

Microabrasion technique is a process where a thin outer layer of tooth enamel that contains blemishes is abraded/eroded away.
  • It involves the use of a coarse polishing compound (e.g. pumice or silicon-carbide particles) mixed with an acidic solution (e.g. 5 to 18% hydrochloric acid solution or 37% phosphoric acid gel).
  • The tooth's surface is buffed with the slurry (not unlike when your teeth are polished during cleanings) for a brief duration (usually a minute or less). The slurry is then thoroughly washed off.
  • Upon completion of the process, fluoride is usually applied to the tooth to help protect its treated surface.

(Sundfeld 2014, Alvarez 2009) [page references]


The results obtained can be unpredictable since there's no way to know beforehand how deep in the enamel the blemishes lie.

In those cases where it's not totally successful, the tooth's appearance should at least be improved. Whitening treatments can then sometimes be used to help blend in the residual blemish with the remainder of the tooth.


Since the offending portion of the enamel has been removed, the results are permanent. The physical structure of your teeth is only minimally changed. In cases where a rough enamel surface existed initially, it will be smoothed. No long-term maintenance is required.

Cost Comparison

The use of this method should provide substantial savings over placing veneers. An estimated fee for treating a single tooth would run on the order of $50 to $100.

2) Orthodontic treatment.

Orthodontic treatment can provide a wonderful alternative to veneers. Especially in light of the fact that there are so many ways to have it (many of which are much less noticeable and more convenient than traditional metal braces).

Of course, certain pre-existing conditions need to exist.

1) Your teeth must have a generally pleasing shape and outline form, although minor shape changes can usually be made quite easily after treatment has been completed (see below).

2) Your teeth need to have a pleasing color (or you'll need to include tooth whitening in your overall treatment plan).

When it will provide an acceptable solution, dentists typically consider using an orthodontic approach to be "ideal" treatment.


The main drawbacks of this approach are: 1) The amount of time needed for treatment (months, or more likely, one or two years). 2) The inconvenience of having treatment (although with removable systems like Invisalign this is less of a factor).


The physical structure of your teeth remains unchanged. Long-term maintenance simply involves wearing a retainer.

Cost Comparison

It's likely that the cost of orthodontic treatment will be on par with placing a set of veneers (six or so).

[This digital smile makeover case discusses the issue of braces vs. porcelain veneers.]
[Related page: Costs for orthodontic treatment.]

3) Esthetic tooth recontouring.

It's sometimes possible for a dentist to substantially improve a smile simply by trimming and recontouring the shape of its teeth.

This just involves rounding off corners, evening out biting edges and shaving back prominent areas. Only portions of enamel that don't affect the health and welfare of the teeth are trimmed off.


Some tooth structure is sacrificed (but just minimally so).


This procedure is simple and quick. No anesthetic should be required. No long-term maintenance is needed.


Cost Comparison

While it's hard to know exactly what a dentist might charge for this service (for just 1 or 2 teeth, probably little or nothing). Of all of the alternatives we discuss on this page, this should be the least expensive one by far.

[This group of digital smile makeovers can give you an idea of some of the types of changes that are possible. With these cases, it's usually the lower teeth that involve recontouring.]

4) Dental bonding.

Bonding can provide an alternative to porcelain veneers in two ways.

a) Localized application of dental composite.

With this technique, dental composite (white filling material) is used to mask individual cosmetic imperfections like chips, divots and stains.

A big advantage of using this method is that the bonding is only placed in those areas where the problem actually exists. In comparison, with veneering technique, the entire front side of a tooth is resurfaced.


While improved, the tooth remains as minimally altered as possible. (This method makes the best choice for teeth that have small, isolated blemishes or defects.)


Bonding isn't as lasting as porcelain. But at that point when its appearance needs rejuvenating, it's usually relatively easy and inexpensive to fix or replace.

[This page discusses bonding vs. porcelain veneers in greater detail.]

Cost Comparison

The fee for this service will vary by way of the extent to which it's needed for each tooth. But in all cases, you can expect that your initial costs will be substantially less than if porcelain veneers are placed.

Long-term maintenance is the unknown issue here. But if the areas of bonding are small, you can still expect this to be the more cost-effective approach.

b) Composite veneers

Veneers made out of tooth bonding can be considered to be a true alternative to porcelain ones, in the sense that they serve the exact same purpose. Other than that they are very different (composite veneer placement vs. porcelain veneer placement).


These veneers are cheaper, take fewer appointments to place and can be easily repaired if needed.

Composite veneers are sometimes placed as diagnostic restorations, thus allowing the patient to evaluate proposed changes before committing to porcelain veneer placement.


They may be able to provide a result that's similar to porcelain veneers. But this is very dependent upon the dentist's skills, and even then they may have a less-natural look because of the nature of dental composite itself. (Use the link above to learn more about the differences between bonded and porcelain restorations.)

In general, most people typically prefer porcelain veneers. Wakiaga (2004) reported "patient satisfaction" rates of 93% for porcelain vs. 67% for composite veneers (based on a survey of 200 restorations over a time period of 2.5 years).

Cost Comparison

The cost savings of this approach might be on the order of 30%. But in regard to long-term maintenance, it's debatable if this approach is more cost-effective than porcelain veneers.

[Related page: Costs for bonded restorations.]

You really don't want a "perfect" smile.

The alternatives listed on this page may not be able to offer results that are as perfect-looking as those provided by a set of veneers. But that may not really be such a bad thing. Here's why.

Which tooth looks more natural to you?

A picture comparison of characterized and uncharacterized dental veneers.

While a lot of people like the perfect look of "A", there's nothing natural-looking about it. Natural teeth display color and translucency variation.

What you want is characterization.

Dentists call the tiny imperfections and variations found with most peoples' smiles "characterization."
Natural-looking smiles usually have teeth that have just the faintest color variation here, or the slightest tooth tilt there.
And in order to mimic nature, the best dentists typically try to include some of these types of characterizations into the restorations they create, so to break up the sameness that each tooth would otherwise have.

That's what makes a smile look natural (picture B), as opposed to looking like a set of "Chiclets," (picture A) the term dentists often use to describe a perfectly uniform set of teeth.

Ask your dentist what their plans are.

If you're considering having a set of veneers placed, ask your dentist what their plans are for "characterizing" them. Otherwise you may very well receive a set of Chiclets, certainly a whole lot of cases end up this way.

Or, if you're considering one of the alternatives listed on this page, find out which imperfections that technique will not be able to address. Then determine if that minor shortcoming simply won't add to the naturalness of your smile.



Coerced and cheated to believe?

I have strong, healthy teeth - something my family dentist used to tell me every time I came in. I took pride in this and take care of my teeth with a raw, vegan diet, and good oral care.
A year back, I went in for a routine check-up, after years of being on the road as a traveler.
I was told that I "brux" (grind/clench my teeth) and that they're worn down in the front "like an old person", and that I'm at risk for dental complications further down the line if I don't do something about it immediately.
I didn't think they were "that bad" and couldn't recall my family dentist saying anything about brux, but I attested this new issue to my years of travel and excessive stress levels associated with it.
So I asked the new dentist what their recommendation was and they replied, "veneers".

As they told me what it was and how beautiful my smile would be - "not like an old person's smile" - I started to fall for it.
They didn't share details about the procedure, but kept it general, telling me that this would be best and would repair the "damage" caused by clenching and grinding.

I had temporaries placed on for some time, while the veneers were made.
And when I finally came into the office for the full procedure, I voiced a concern that I had - "Is it true that my teeth, underneath will rot?"
The response from the dentist and his assistant was a nervous and evasive one.
I didn't get my answer, but I was naive and trusted them far too quickly.

It was then that they gave me some shots to anesthetize/numb and began to grind my teeth down.
I recall feeling highly sensitive and that it was a very painful procedure for me, even with the multiple rounds of shots.
But, the veneers went on and, so, a new smile was formed - "not like an old person's".

It has been less than a full year since the procedure and one of my veneers fell off - intact. The sensitivity of my dentin makes it unbearable to not wear my veneer, so as to have some kind of protective cover, even though it's not on properly and comes off in my mouth at night.

I've struggled with feeling coerced and scammed by this dental office over time, and, with my veneer falling of and revealing a deeper lingering sensitivity, I am very concerned that I've made a horrible decision that has impacted the health of my otherwise strong, healthy teeth.
And as I read through these highly informative pages on traditional veneers vs. modern trends in drilling away the enamel, I'm beginning to get the sense that I've been cheated.

I am scared that I may not be able to afford further costs of veneer repair, at this rate, and may have even lost my enamel for good.
I don't know what to do, or who to go to, whom I can trust.

* Comment notes.

Not for me!

I would never do veneer. My sister did her teeth and they look freaky white. Veneers are like boob jobs for teeth. They might look ok but usually you can tell.

* Comments marked with an asterisk, along with their associated replies, have either been edited for brevity/clarity, or have been moved to a page that's better aligned with their subject matter, or both. If relocated, the comment and its replies retain their original datestamps, which may affect the chronology of the page's comments section.

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