Chips, cracks, stains, pegged, and irregularly shaped teeth — these are all common issues that stand between people and the smiles they want. Both dental bonding and veneers can hide these concerns, presenting a healthy, intact smile to the world.
But while they can address similar conditions, these are two very different treatments, and one will fit your priorities better than the other. In this guide, we’re giving you all the information you need to make a confident decision.
Dental Bonding: What You Should Know
Dental bonding is a cosmetic procedure used to hide various surface-level issues — it does not restore function and it cannot address major issues that compromise the integrity of the tooth. It involves placing composite dental resin on individual teeth, then coloring and shaping it to achieve the patient’s aesthetic goals.
Once they’ve perfected the look, the dentist will use a special light to cure the bond, hardening it in place. Dental bonding can last anywhere from 3–10 years.
Concerns Dental Bonding Can Address:
- Chipped teeth
- Cracked enamel
- Mild-to-moderate discoloration
- Short teeth
- Irregular tooth shapes
Ideal Candidates for Dental Bonding
Dental bonding is best for people with minor tooth damage or mild-to-moderate cosmetic concerns. Dental resin isn’t strong enough to offer the same protection as natural enamel, so other solutions are better for compromised enamel. It’s also somewhat translucent, allowing severe stains to show through.
For dental bonding to work, you need to have most of your teeth in place and structurally sound. If you have active tooth decay, get that treated first. In cases of small and pegged teeth, it’s also possible that you don’t have enough tooth surface to build upon with bonding alone. You should have realistic expectations for how much bonding can change your smile and be prepared for the upkeep this treatment requires.
The Dental Bonding Process
Dental bonding is a straightforward treatment that should take just one visit to complete. Unless you also need a filling or tooth reshaping, it’s rare to need any numbing. The entire process usually takes about 1–2 hours, depending on how many teeth you’re treating.
Your dentist will start by discussing your smile goals, then use a color chart to help you select the right color for your teeth. Next, they’ll mix the resin and prepare to apply it. They will use a bonding agent to make the surface slightly rougher, giving the resin something to grip.
Once the tooth’s surface is ready, the dentist will apply and shape the resin. You’ll get to check the look, and with your approval, they’ll use a UV light to harden it so it stays in place. Your dentist will wrap things up by polishing the surface.
Veneers: What You Should Know
Veneers are wafer-thin shells custom made for individual teeth to meet the patient’s aesthetic goals. Considered a cosmetic treatment, they cover up surface-level concerns but do not restore function and can only protect the tooth’s integrity in limited cases. Depending on the type of veneer, they’re either made off-site in a lab or created directly on the tooth. Veneers usually last 7–20 years.
Concerns Veneers Can Address
- Chipped teeth
- Cracked enamel
- Discoloration of varying severity
- Minor crowding
- Short teeth
- Irregular tooth shapes
Ideal Candidates for Dental Veneers
Veneers are best for people with cosmetic concerns in the upper front six teeth. The teeth need to be healthy — with no active decay — and intact enough that there is sufficient surface to anchor the veneers. Your gums also need to be healthy. Otherwise, veneers can worsen gum disease.
If you are looking to hide chips or cracks, they must be small enough that the veneers can completely cover them. Veneers don’t wrap around the teeth, so they can’t address deep cracks and large chips. Also, while they can hide any level of staining, their opacity varies between materials.
Veneers are not ideal for people who have bruxism. They also require your dentist to shave down your enamel before placing them, so you’ll need to replace them every 7–20 years for the rest of your life. If that kind of cost or commitment isn’t for you, look into no-prep veneers or other treatments.
The Veneer Process
Different veneers have different application procedures. For example, direct composite veneers require little to no enamel removal and the dentist makes them directly on the teeth in just one visit. In fact, the process of creating them is essentially the same as dental bonding. There are also no-prep porcelain veneers, like Lumineers, which don’t require enamel removal but are made off-site in a lab.
In most cases, veneers require the dentist to shave off 0.3–0.5 millimeters of enamel. This prep prevents the veneers from making the teeth look and feel overly large. Between your prep appointment and the day you get your veneers, you’ll wear temporary veneers to protect your teeth and keep your smile looking healthy.
Once your veneers are ready, you’ll come in and try them on. If you like the look, your dentist will bond them to your teeth. Then they’ll polish them and make any small adjustments you need. You might need to come in for a follow-up appointment after about a week to make sure they’re working well and staying in place.
How Do They Compare?
Bonding and veneers are valid options for most people, and they deliver similar results. That’s why deciding can be so difficult — it’s often just a matter of preference. The question is, which should you prefer? To figure it out, you need to understand how these two treatments compare.
Both dental bonding and veneers enhance the look of your smile and blend right in with your natural teeth. Bonding and composite veneers are pretty much on equal footing here — depending on the dentist or lab technician creating them. They have the same translucency and texture, and they’re both prone to internal staining.
Porcelain veneers take the natural look to the next level. Their translucency varies by layer, just like our natural teeth. They’re also somewhat textured, just like your enamel. However, while the dentist can alter the color of bonding and composite veneers while placing them to best complement the surrounding teeth, the lab will set the porcelain’s color before placement.
Depending on the type of resin and how well you care for your teeth, you’ll need to have your bonding touched up or replaced fairly every 3–10 years. Composite veneers are usually slightly stronger, lasting 7–15 years. But once again, porcelain comes out on top with a 15–20-year lifespan and some people find their last even longer with the right care.
Dental bonding and veneers are similar treatments, but neither can address every dental issue. Most notably, they’re both limited in how they can hide discoloration, chips, and cracks. Composite veneers are slightly thicker than bonding, so even though both are quite translucent, the veneers hide stains better. Porcelain’s bottom layer is opaque, so it can typically hide even deep, dark stains.
As for chips and cracks, in some cases, dental bonding is the better solution because it isn’t limited to the front surfaces and edges of the teeth. If needed, it can go on all tooth surfaces.
You can save a lot of time if you opt for dental bonding over indirect composite and porcelain veneers — just keep in mind that the timeframe for direct composite is essentially the same. Dental bonding takes just one visit and under two hours. Because they’re thicker, direct composite veneers sometimes take slightly longer, but not much. Indirect composite and porcelain veneers require 2–3 visits, and each one lasts longer because of the tooth prep involved.
However, you also need to look at the long-term time investment. You’ll likely need to repair or replace dental bonding more frequently than veneers. However, you can choose to just remove your bonding at any time. If your veneers require enamel removal, you must wear them for life.
Which Is Right for You?
Both dental bonding and veneers can deliver amazing cosmetic smile transformations. You’ll probably love your results no matter which option you choose, but you might find that one is better for you than the other.
Choose Dental Bonding If…
- You want an aesthetic solution that can be treated as temporary.
- The issues with your teeth are not just on the front surfaces.
- Your budget is the biggest factor in your decision.
- You have cracks and/or chips, but not much discoloration.
Choose Veneers If…
- You want a longer-lasting solution.
- Your issues only affect the front surfaces of the social six.
- You’re less concerned with budget than you are with results.
- You have deep, dark stains, such as those from tetracycline.