Can You Bleach Porcelain Veneers?

Dr. Hall:

Is it possible to bleach, or in some other way whiten porcelain veneers once they have been applied?

Close to three months ago, I decided to get porcelain veneers on my top four front teeth. The dentist I went to selected the whitest shade on his chart and advised me that it was the whitest shade available for them—even though I thought the color looked a little less white than my other teeth (I have been bleaching my teeth for many years). When the they came in, I protested again that there was a noticeable color difference. He assured me that by using the whitest cement the veneers would match my teeth. Alas, this was not the result: there is at least an entire shade (if not more) of difference between my porcelain veneers and my other teeth. At the follow-up visit the next week, I was still very unhappy with the result. He told me that the only way to get them whiter would be to break off the porcelain veneers, possibly causing me permanent nerve damage, and to replace them with whiter porcelain veneers—which he wasn’t even sure of how to obtain (although, he did admit to not having the chart for the highest whiteness level). Do I really have no other alternatives?

Any help that you could provide would be greatly appreciated. I am turning 25 this month, and I spent a great deal of money on these porcelain veneers so that I wouldn’t have to go through the rest of my life being self-conscious every time I smiled. Yet now, I am just a self-conscious as before but with no apparent options, and would like to whiten the porcelain veneers if possible.

—Stacy in Missouri

You can’t whiten porcelain veneers once they’re on your teeth.

Many dentists are not up-to-date on shade-matching of bleached teeth. There is no limit as to how white your porcelain veneers can be. What happened to you is so typical when people get porcelain veneers from dentists who are not experts in cosmetic dentistry. There are two problems you will find with the vast majority of dentists.

First, they are learning as they go. They don’t have the knowledge or the equipment to do a beautiful smile makeover. It sounds like your dentist didn’t even have in his office a shade guide to match bleached teeth. So he ordered teeth with the lightest shade on the natural shade guide, but your teeth are considerably lighter than that because you have bleached them.

Second, and this is the root cause why the dentist doesn’t have the knowledge or the materials on hand–the dentist doesn’t really have a passion for appearance-related dentistry. Most dentists choose the profession because they like to fix things, and they simply aren’t artistically inclined. Thus they don’t pursue the continuing education they need to be able to create beautiful smiles and they don’t bother investing in the equipment or materials to accomplish that.

One thing that reveals that your dentist has no passion for cosmetic dentistry is his response when you complained that you didn’t think the veneers were white enough. A dentist with a passion for creating beautiful work wouldn’t dream of bonding on these veneers unless you were thrilled with how they looked. I have asked maybe a hundred excellent cosmetic dentists this question–if you try on the porcelain veneers and the patient gives a hesitant response about how they look, what do you do? All excellent cosmetic dentists will not bond them on until the patient’s concerns are fully addressed, to the point of having the veneers re-made if necessary.

But even after they’re bonded, they can be re-done. He does not need to “break them off.” He merely grinds them off. It’s like starting over. The chances of damaging your teeth, if he does this right, are less with re-doing the porcelain veneers than it was with doing them in the first place. But it would be best to go to a dentist who is an expert in cosmetic dentistry rather than to be experimented on one more time.

Dr. David Hall

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