What are the differences between porcelain veneers and composite veneers?

porcelain veneers or composite veneers

When it comes to our teeth, multiple factors throughout a lifetime can cause blemishes, faults and discolouration of varying degrees. Changes in tooth appearance can be due to:

  • genetics – Gaps, teeth misalignments and dental irregularities may be inherited.
  • lifestyle choices – Coffee, tea, tobacco, red wine and some foods can stain teeth over time.
  • antibiotics – The use of tetracycline in young children can cause permanent staining of adult teeth.
  • injury – Impacts can cause cracks or chipping of teeth.
  • age – Teeth will darken as the tooth structure matures. Similarly, older fillings will wear away over time and collect stain.

Dentists today offer a variety of techniques to improve the appearance of any superficially damaged or stained teeth and hence your overall smile, one of the most common treatment modalities being veneers. Veneers are a thin layer of material that is placed on top of unsightly teeth to improve their appearance. There are two types of veneer: composite (known as “direct”) and porcelain (known as “indirect”). Below I describe their points of differentiation.

Composite Veneers (Direct)

Porcelain Veneers (Indirect)

  • Requires little or no removal of tooth structure.
  • As teeth are prepared minimally or not at all, there will be little or no discomfort to the patient during or following the procedure.
  • These direct-bonded veneers can often be attached in one visit.
  • Impressions and laboratory fabrication are not required as composite veneers are directly layered onto your tooth by your dentist.
  • The cost of composite veneers is lower than porcelain veneers.
  • Even months or years following the procedure, the shape and colour of composite veneers can be modified or repaired by your dentist.
  • Future removal of these veneers can sometimes be done without any damage to the underlying natural tooth structure.
  • Composite veneers are not as strong as porcelain and are more likely to chip or break over time.
  • Composite veneers require more maintenance by your dentist than porcelain veneers.
  • Requires relatively more removal of tooth structure (but significantly less than a dental crown).
  • Prepared teeth may feel more sensitive to extreme temperatures, to touch and to air before veneer is fitted.
  • Two or three visits to the dentist will usually be required to fit these veneers.
  • An impression of each tooth is taken and sent to a dental ceramist who fabricates the veneers.
  • The cost of porcelain veneers is more expensive than composite veneers.
  • Once the veneer is bonded to the tooth it cannot be changed, so careful consideration of shape and colour is required beforehand.
  • Future removal of porcelain veneers will inevitably result in some further loss of the underlying natural tooth structure.
  • Porcelain veneers and the cement used during the fitting stage are comparable in strength to natural teeth.
  • Porcelain veneers require less maintenance by your dentist than composite veneers. 

Other considerations with porcelain and composite veneers:

While veneers in certain cases can improve the appearance of superficially damaged or stained teeth, they are not a substitute for corrective dental treatment in individuals with severely crowded, misaligned teeth or significant jaw discrepancies. In these more complex cases, consultation and management by a specialist orthodontist is recommended.

Furthermore, the functional and aesthetic durability of veneers is dependent on the health of the patient’s gums. Therefore, good oral hygiene, through meticulous daily brushing and flossing, is imperative.

Dr Peter Huynh
BSc (Melb), DDS (Melb)
General Dental Care