Veneers: The real cost of a Hollywood smile

The vogue for veneers may be lining dentist' pockets, but this procedure is not the quick fix it seems to be – and is far from risk-free. Jane Feinmann reports

Question: what do you call a bad Harley Street dentist? Answer: a veneereologist – at least, that's the word at the respectable end of the burgeoning cosmetic dental industry.

TV shows such as 10 Years Younger (which has begun a new series on Channel 4) have proved the power of the beautiful smile – and vice versa. Four out of five of us keep our mouths firmly shut when we're being photographed because we're so self-conscious about yellowing, grey, chipped, cracked, crowded or uneven teeth – and all too aware of the contrast with the white, even Hollywood smiles that are now a prerequisite for the stars of the big screen.

And one in three of us is considering getting something done about it, according to the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD).

What most of us are considering, it seems, is a veneer – or probably several of them. The wafer-thin strip of pearly white porcelain that is bonded to the offending tooth after the original has been filed down is top of the list for instant oral beautification – more natural-looking than false teeth, and a quicker fix than caps or crowns, which both require more invasive dentistry.

But the growing demand for cosmetic dentistry is occurring in an industry that largely lacks regulation, and does not demand more than basic training. Any high-street dentist is able to offer veneers and – with prices at anything from £400 to £1,000 per veneer – make a very good living from it too, all with the full support of the profession's leaders.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, an independent charity that aims to promote good dentistry, says it's perfectly acceptable that every dentist is able to offer cosmetic dentistry. "Fitting a veneer involves routine techniques that every dentist is trained to provide," he says.

But that view is increasingly being challenged. The cosmetic consultant Wendy Lewis argues in a new book, Plastic Makes Perfect (Orion, £16.99) that aesthetic dentistry is "a highly specialist area, with a steep learning curve to doing it well".

The BACD president, Dr David Bloom, agrees. "A good-quality veneer that fits well and feels comfortable requires a well-trained and skilful dentist conserving the maximum amount of tooth, with a good relationship with a highly trained and skilful laboratory technician," says Dr Bloom, who is also senior partner at the Senova Dental Studio in Watford. "The benchmark of a good veneer is that another dentist shouldn't be able to spot it and that's very difficult to achieve."

In fact, the quality of cosmetic dentistry varies enormously. At one end of the scale, cosmetic dentists offer toilet-white veneers made of poor-quality porcelain that lacks durability, which are virtually mass-produced in laboratories to a uniform shape. At the other end, skilled ceramists such as Eva Furst of the Fusion Dental Laboratories (FDL) in Newbury, Berkshire, use high-quality materials to create an individualised veneer, or a set of veneers, in a procedure that she likens to making fine jewellery.

"Getting a colour match, especially for a single veneer, is a great challenge. It will often have more than one colour, as do the surrounding real teeth, and the shape of the tooth, the gums and the mouth as a whole are entirely individual and need to be treated with great subtlety," Furst explains.

What's more, a good dentist will always advise patients to have the least invasive solution and work from there, according to Shaun Smith, senior partner at The Dental Surgery in the City of London, one of a handful of dental practices that work with FDL. "Cosmetic dentistry is far more than just veneers," he says. "White fillings or tooth whitening can make a big difference, and so can braces – and they all involve keeping the original tooth. And 15 to 20 years down the line, when the veneer needs replacing, as most will, the patient will be delighted that they have consulted a dentist prepared to make the extra effort."

The problem, Bloom says, is that many dentists don't inform patients that other options might be more better. "A veneer is an amazingly successful procedure, but it should be avoided if there is a less invasive alternative. Some dentists are too quick to suggest a veneer, or more often, a whole mouthful of veneers," he says.

The results can be disastrous, both aesthetically and financially. Myles Dakin, senior partner at the Cambridgeshire practice Specialist Dental Partners, has several patients "who have been over-treated by unqualified dentists and now face having all the work re-done".

Wendy Lewis has one UK client on her books "whose veneers are already chipping and who now needs the entire top arch of her teeth redone". She is also aware of several people who regret having been "talked into having far more work than they need".

The work involved in fitting a veneer varies considerably. Some practices boast that the procedure can be completed in a single visit. The Dental Surgery insists that planning for the treatment take place over several visits, with detailed wax mock-ups created initially so that the shape and appearance of the new teeth can be assessed by both patient and dentist before the final constructions are cemented in.

And when a row of veneers is planned, an expert dentist will work with the patient to get the shape and length of teeth aesthetically correct and acceptable to the individual. "Getting the length of the teeth right, especially the two front teeth, is paramount so that some tooth length is visible even when the lips are relaxed and with the upper teeth roughly following the curve of the lower lip," says Dr Tim Bradstock-Smith, senior partner at the London Smile Clinic. "The width of the smile is another vital ingredient, as the ideal smile should fill the width at the corners of the lips."

The BACD was set up four years ago with the aim of raising standards in cosmetic dentistry and educating the public about what is available. So far, it has fewer than a thousand members, even though membership is open to all the profession who pay the joining fee. From this year, there are new tiers of membership with senior members from both dentistry and laboratories required to provide proof of experience, training, expertise and ability to work together to provide top-quality work (the names are on the website at www.bacd.com).

In the meantime, personal recommendation remains the best route to good service, along with advice not to skimp on costs, Bloom says. "I would be cautious about having a veneer that costs less than £500; it simply won't cover the cost of a good laboratory and allow for sufficient attention to detail," he says.

Visiting several dentists is a sensible route to achieve beautiful cosmetic work, Lewis says: "Ask to see photographs of their work and make sure it's not pictures provided by labs or the companies that make the porcelain." And always consider the alternatives to veneers. Braces or crowns are less radical and might suit your needs better – and you won't find yourself shelling out for a new set of teeth again in 15 years' time.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us