Last August, influencer Jannifer Gao pressed send on a Tweet that would go viral: “I blame the lack of comprehensive health care and health education for why this veneer crisis is happening,” she wrote. The crisis that Jannifer is referring to is the epidemic of destroyed teeth that dental professionals have been dealing with recently — and it’s all down to the burgeoning popularity of pay-per-tooth services.
You may have come across these teeth services, such as increasingly popular veneers, on social media. Dental veneers are thin, typically porcelain, composite or zirconia shells attached to the front of the tooth to improve the shape, size and color. More often than not, the enamel is shaved down during this process, but it isn’t the only aesthetic trend to take over teeth care — and set tongues wagging. There are controversial dental crowns, for example, which require filing teeth down to tiny ‘pegs’ so that they can be fitted on top, not to mention invisible aligners, which gradually straighten teeth.
These procedures need specific training, but right now, the global cosmetic dental industry lacks the regulation. Before I get into things, it pays to understand the ins and outs of dentistry. Prosthodontics is the highest level of dentistry study. These experts focus on cosmetic dentistry, such as dental implants, crowns, bridges and more. With three extra years of education under their belt, prosthodontists are dentists — but not all dentists are prosthodontists.
@chelc.smithh If I knew now what I know about veneers I don't think I would have gotten them tbh #veneersjourney #dentaljourney #veneersprocess #veneersteeth #hardtruthtoswallow #myveneersmile #veneersstorytime ♬ original sound - Chelsea Smith
Teeth are emotional, actually
Though you might not make the association, teeth are linked to our emotional wellbeing. Interestingly, Dr Michael Apa of Apa Aesthetic doesn’t think we truly understand how big of an issue tooth insecurity actually is. Dr Stephanie Dumanian of Park Lex 60 Dental agrees: “Our smile is an extension of our personality,” she says. “It gives us self-esteem and confidence.” Sure enough, there are so many forms of shame surrounding our teeth. Whether it’s the size of them, the shape of them or their color.
A report by New Town Dental Care even found that 71% of under-30s surveyed believe that good teeth (which they regard as straight and white) is the most attractive trait a person can have. More often than not, though, the straight, white teeth we see online have been subject to a large amount of editing and filters. It’s no wonder we have warped perception of what ‘normal’ teeth look like.
Rather than doing things by the book, many people are going to what Dr Lowenberg refers to as "mouth shops", essentially a place where unqualified, so-called ‘dentists’ operate.
My first encounter with veneers was Joanie Dodds from series 6 of America’s Next Top Model. Remember her excruciating twelve-hour ordeal to fix what Tyra Banks called her “snaggletooth”? Back then, ‘flawless’ teeth were a luxury most couldn’t afford, and it was astonishing whenever we discovered yet another celebrity or influencer whose teeth weren’t the real ones that came from their actual gums. Fast forward to 2023, and teeth trends like these aren’t saved for celebrities anymore.
In fact, experts argue that the pandemic had something to do with the likes of veneers and crowns being sought after cheaply by the masses. “During the pandemic, people stared at themselves on screens for hours a day and noticed how the ‘imperfections’ they hid with closed smiles in photos were quite visible when they spoke,” explains New York-based cosmetic dentist Dr. Alex Rubinov. Dr Rubinov says that the combination of facing one’s ‘flaws’ while being inundated with images of seemingly ‘perfect’ smiles on social media has encouraged people to strive to achieve the look on a budget.
Qualified professionals charge around $15-$20k a go for cosmetic teeth procedures. In a bid to save money, people on a mission for ‘better’ teeth are heading abroad and spending as little as $1000 on a new mouth. Take the TikTok hashtag #TurkeyTeeth, for example. And this is a global issue. A recent report found that more than 90% of Dentists have examined patients who have travelled abroad for dental services. The report says that 86% have treated patients who have encountered issues post treatment overseas, and people are reporting stomach-churning outcomes.
@specsandblazers #Veneers are a mess! Plus, they can come off anytime. But this helps with #halitosis #cloveoil ♬ original sound - Niké
The downsides of teeth surgery
“I hate to admit it,” said TikToker @specsandblazers in a viral video. “I started noticing about six months into getting [veneers] that they do have a very particular smell. It’s a very metallic, almost sulphuric smell, like a burning tire. And I can smell it on people who also have veneers.” In a viral video titled, “If I knew now what I know about veneers I don't think I would have gotten them,” TikToker @chelc.smithh said, “All my friends and family know that I have had such an ordeal with these veneers,” before going on to show that their veneer had come clean off while eating ramen. “I’m ready, at this point, like take them all out and give me some dentures. Let me live my life.”
Award-winning cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eksander recently went TikTok viral for breaking down the true cost of a man’s cheap veneers, which actually turned out to be crowns (where each tooth is shaven down to an extreme point). When this goes wrong, corrective gum surgery will cost you thousands, she points out, while root canals and additional crowns to correct the work will set you back tens of thousands.
@youngnaij12 0/10 Do Not Recommend. I got my veneers less then 30 days ago & their falling out already. @Zani Love you should be ashamed! Bad Business! 5K Down The Drain 👎🏽 & she lied anout being booked not to fix them . . . pt.2 coming soon . . . #ATL #CharlotteNC #veneers #fyp ♬ original sound - youngnaij12
Confusing crowns for veneers is a common and extremely dangerous issue which is happening worldwide. In a TikTok explainer, dental surgeon Dr Vikas Prinja says that veneers are incredibly popular lately, pointing to a video of an influencer getting them done behind him. But while they may look good, he says, there’s an issue: “These guys are having crowns, not veneers,” Dr Prinja explains. In fact, dentistry experts believe that people are being marketed crowns as veneers. In this instance, “about 60% of the tooth is drilled away leading to major risks,” Dr Prinja says.
Aside from a strange smell and intense fear when eating, if you know anything about nerves and nerve endings, you don’t want to mess with them. Your mouth is full of these. In other words, it’s dangerous to get sucked into the social media frenzy of cosmetic dentistry, or cheap out when it comes to dental health.
“Every tooth has a nerve that runs down the middle,” says Dr Prinja. “The more tooth we drill away, the closer we get to the nerve. This means a higher risk of infections and needing root canal treatments.” On top of this, says Dr Prinja, your new teeth won’t last forever. “A [crown] lasts for 12-15 years and after that you won’t have much tooth left to work with afterwards.” The crown posing as veneers epidemic is “horrific” according to one dentist. “No dentist has a licence to damage beautiful virgin teeth,” he said. “You should be shocked.”
@thelondondentist #dentist #reel #health #gums #learnontiktok #fyp #didyouknow #facts #nhs #teethwhitening #invisalign #healthylifestyle #health #healthtips #dental #dentalhygienist #dentalhygiene #tartar #dentalcleaning #turkeyteeth #veneers #crowns #cosmetic #cosmeticdentist #cosmeticdentistry #medicaltourism #dentaltourism ♬ original sound - thelondondentist
People are ditching qualified dentists and heading to so-called "mouth shops"
Cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York, told me his practice has had a 50% rise in requests for porcelain veneers post-pandemic. But rather than doing things by the book, many people are going to what Dr Lowenberg refers to as "mouth shops", essentially a place where unqualified, so-called ‘dentists’ operate. Alleged ‘mouth shops’ (more often popular abroad) have been compared to fast fashion — but for teeth. They are cheap and not credible, and churn patients out quickly with poor work. Results can be catastrophic and often do more harm than good.
We’ve spoken about drilling away too much of the tooth structure when fitting crowns, but when it comes to veneers, it’s possible to overbuild them and make them appear bulky. This can result in gum disease (where gums become red, sore, swollen and even bleed) not to mention difficulty eating or speaking. The area where the tooth meets the veneer is also a perfect place for bacteria to grow. This could explain the multiple reports of awful smells, but dentists also pinpoint a lack of care pre-veneer, for example, placing it over a tooth with cavities or tartar. Again, this is common abroad.
The list of possible complications is very long, and the worst part is that you may not know there is an issue until it’s too late — particularly where crowns are concerned. “Unlike a bad haircut or color, you can’t grow a tooth back,” says Dr Rubinov. There’s also a possibility for an excessive amount of decay under the crown and a possibility that the tooth may need to be extracted entirely later down the line. Dr Rubinov adds that someone who isn’t experienced or properly trained has too many opportunities to make these mistakes.
Dentistry experts believe that people are being marketed crowns as veneers. In this instance, about 60% of the tooth is drilled away leading to major risks.
@drrhonaeskander Let’s try this again. Not sure why this got banned, it’s my actual patient. Find out why dentistry is so expensive #teeth #bonding #veneers #smiles ♬ original sound - Dr Rhona Eskander
Dr Alastair McGill of New Town Dental Care says that often with procedures abroad, there is no time for a proper consultation, nor is there time to allow patients to explore other avenues, which might be better for them, like braces or whitening rather than veneers or crowns. “The lack of time means that you cannot guarantee how skilful a dentist will be until after the procedure, and by then, it may well be too late,” says Dr McGill. “Speed should also not be a factor in dental care,” he says, “but when you’re having treatment in a limited time frame abroad, it becomes a key element. Complicated procedures, which can take weeks or even months to complete, are rushed into days.” Dr McGill says it’s unrealistic to expect that the results would be the same as at home. The potential language barrier can make things difficult, too.
When it comes to veneers specifically, porcelain covers are making way for types of ceramics. It’s certainly a more durable material, but some of the versions used abroad in particular could be detrimental to your teeth. “The amount of heat generated to get those things off can devitalize or kill teeth,” Dr Apa explains, referring to badly applied ceramics. Like Dr Prinja, he says that you might also need to go through a root canal procedure. “Ceramic is stronger than a Chevy bumper,” he says.
But here’s the terrifying part: “The material itself is so dense that you can't drill it off. I go through two or three drills — the motors and the drills — just to get a full mouth of that shit off,” he says vehemently. Once the veneers are successfully removed, they have to then be replaced with temporary ones, with the goal of getting to permanent ones in the future. But your teeth health will never be the same, hints Dr Rubinov.
Why your dental expert is so important
Despite all of the horror stories, when done correctly and by a qualified professional, actual veneers (not crowns) can help you achieve a great smile, explains Dr Dumanian. They could even improve your bite, not to mention your quality of life and confidence. “Many people who desire veneers already have worn down teeth, discolored and thin enamel from acidic foods or acid reflux or grinding,” she says. “Veneers allow us to protect the remaining enamel and restore a person’s bite so they can chew more effectively and prevent further breakdown of the teeth.”
Dr Apa’s labs make the teeth in a way that is no longer taught, an old fashioned way of taking a paint brush and powder and actually layering the sturdy material in order to make it look like a tooth.Think of it like dip powder nail polish. But many other dentists use CAD/CAM technology to create a veneer. This enlists a laser, which essentially cuts teeth out of a block of ceramic and produces a veneer. In both instances, you have to be there in order to achieve the best fit for your mouth. This is why Dr Lowenberg thinks ordering anything to do with teeth online is absurd. As is a quick in-and-out procedure abroad.
“Quality veneers are dependent on two factors,” he says. “Firstly, the natural ability of the dentist and the artistic integrity of the ceramist, the person who actually makes the veneers. In my opinion it would be reckless to order veneers online or any mail order production because good veneers must be applied by a legitimate dentist and fabricated by a talented ceramist.” He also says that it’s dangerous to see someone for veneers solely based on cheap pricing or claims of fast and quick results. Dental care should be painstakingly considered.
How to find the best dentist for your veneers
It’s important to visit a properly qualified professional for a consultation prior to any procedures. Don’t be afraid to ask about credentials. Where did your dentist study? How long have they been practising cosmetic dentistry? Which labs are they working with to create the veneer? And how long have they been working together? Bring in your own inspiration photos and have a long discussion about your desired end goal.
Also demand photos — lots of them. According to Dr Apa, dental plagiarism is a serious problem. “Thousands of times, people have shown me somebody else who is posting my work,” says Dr Apa. “Patients have come to me and said, ‘I went to this doctor because of this before and after photo. This is what they promised me but this is what I got.’ And often, it's my work!” Dr Apa says you should press your dentist for photos showing patients with similar teeth to yours. He claims he could pull up at least 100 case studies of his own. If they’re not able or willing to provide multiple photos, they’re probably not qualified to take on your mouth.
Lastly, veneers aren’t a salve for avoiding the dentist forever. You still have to go to the dentist to take care of your teeth and gums. Finding a dentist you’re comfortable with (and who is also informed and knowledgeable) is always going to be your best bet.