Composite vs Porcelain: The Showdown

A deep dive into the research & real talk from someone who's gotten both.

Intan Lay

Editor

Apr 19, 21

11 min read

Ahhh the question on everybody’s lips. I feel like this is something that everyone kind of knows a little bit about but want more clarification. I get it. You’ve done some research on veneers. You’ve looked into it. But you’re just not sure which is right for you. Let's dig deep into the research together and explore some factors to consider between composite resin veneers and porcelain veneers, including my own experience with both!

Longevity

We are almost always drawn to the "cheaper" option - composite veneers . I certainly know that I was! I had x4 porcelain veneers and x4 composite veneers previously done before I saw Dr Dee. My decision was purely based on cost. I didn’t realise how different they actually were. Through my research, I was aware that composite veneers had a life span of anywhere between 2-5 years (1), whereas porcelain can live beyond 15 years if done correctly (2). I considered this, then muttered to my broke self, mmm I’ll just worry about what happens in 2-5 years! Surely I’ll have more money then to replace my composites with porcelain…

But first, what does life span actually mean for veneers? There are few situations to consider when you hear veneers longevity, all of which are dependent not only on the material, but also on your natural teeth and even your lifestyle.

The first is stain resistance. Veneers are often a cosmetic procedure. Failing to provide desired aesthetics - like having a stain-free smile - could mean that your veneers need to be replaced. This is actually one of the most common reasons for replacing composite veneers. (3) In this round, porcelain and composite resin are competing on their material properties. Composite resin is a porous material which is more prone to staining. (4) Porcelain, in contrast, is incredibly stain resistant. (5) This factor may be more important to you if you regularly smoke, drink red wine or consume other staining foods or drinks.

The second is mechanical strength. Depending on your eating habits and grinding habits, chipping could be high on your list of concerns. While composite resin technology has advanced significantly in the last decade, especially in its physical properties, porcelain still has the advantage in this round. Porcelain is less prone to chipping or wear damage. (6)

Finally, detachment or breakage. The first thing to understand about this KO event is that, in this area, proper technique and the skill of your practitioner is more influential than the material. (7) However, there is a major difference between the two materials. Porcelain veneers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Composite resin, on the other hand, can be repaired depending on the situation. But keep in mind that porcelain is still much stronger.

Back to my experience: I just got my veneers and I was ecstatic. As I took my first selfies, and grinning every chance I could, I can honestly say I was very happy with my veneers, both porcelain and composite. But as the days turned into months and the months became a year - and the amount of coffee I ingested started to pile up - the differentiation became more noticeable. Can you spot the difference?

Please note: This was not done at Vogue Dental Studios - to read that story start here.

It had only been 1 year of my having them in this photo. Notice how the composite veneers have stained around the edges whereas the porcelain were as white since the day I got them? If that was only 1 year worth of staining, what would it have been like in a couple of years? At that thought, I now saw my frugal decision in a different light.

Aesthetics

Speaking as a patient myself, you don’t really pay that much attention to aesthetics until it’s in your mouth, on your face, and time has gone by. Prior to my treatment, I just did not realise how different they would look. Don't get me wrong - at first, my veneers (both types) looked amazing. I mean, anything is better than what I hard originally, right? Upon closer examination, and looking at my smile every day, I started to notice that my composites were much bulkier. Then, as I learned more about the material differences, I could spot more distinctions in my smile as well.

Why is there such a visual difference between the two? That gets down to their materials. Porcelain veneers are made from, well, porcelain. Composite veneers, sometimes also called composite bonding, is made from a composite resin. This means both how it looks and the texture of how it feels (if your run your tongue over it) are very different.

Let's bust some myths! Both porcelain and composite veneers can have a wide range of colouring and shading. Both porcelain veneers and composites can be layered with varying colours and translucency to mimic natural teeth. However, each material has its own limitations.

One big factor that makes teeth look "natural", and one that is often requested by patients, is incisal translucency. Our natural teeth are made up of layers. The outer layer, enamel, is more translucent than the inner layer, dentin. (8) This layering is what produces those slight translucent wisps at the edge of our teeth. Naturally, this also differs from person to person. Porcelain has a known reputation for reproducing this effect very well. In the last decade, major advancements have arrived for composite resin, including its aesthetic properties and translucencies that can be achieved with resin. Despite this, porcelain is still unmatched in this aspect. (9)

Next, let's talk about texture. Porcelain is a smooth material. This surface texture not only makes porcelain incredibly stain-resistant, it is also very similar to the texture of your natural teeth. In contrast, composite resin is a porous material. In order to better match natural teeth, composite resin must be polished as the final step. (10) This difference in surface roughness has a big effect on aesthetics, primarily influencing a veneer's light-reflecting lustre. Or in other words, its glossiness. Even with polishing, composite cannot match porcelain in this instance. (11)

Procedure

Another factor that is often overlooked is the fact that porcelain veneers and composite veneers require different preparations and different procedures. If you are planning to travel for your new smile, or if you need to coordinate with an important event, advanced planning is going to be essential.

One thing that I personally broadcast frequently to our patients, and to the world, is that porcelain veneers are an irreversible procedure. While minimal shaving is a possibility for some, teeth shaving is likely a requirement in preparation for porcelain veneers. Even when only minimal shaving is required, the surface of your teeth will still need to be roughened in order to attach the porcelain veneers securely. This cannot be undone. Given the gravity of porcelain veneers, their procedure is longer with both more work and more people involved.

Porcelain veneers are generally done over multiple appointments, typically spanning weeks. (Check out our step-by-step guide for the smile makeover process.) First, alternative options are always explored in a consultation. This is a crucial first step where you and your dentist discuss the options available to you based on your requirements and goals. If you are still sure that you want to proceed, records of your teeth are taken so that an accurate mould can be made for the creation of your veneers.

From there, temporary veneers are made, prior the final ones, based on the records and designed according to your goals. Your teeth will be prepped and the temporaries will be placed while your final veneers are in production. Temporaries are important because you have the opportunity to actually try the veneers for some time. This is a good test to see if the veneers achieve your goals and if any adjustments need to be made. You can see what it feels like to eat, talk, and laugh with them; you can even get input from friends and family before finalising your new smile.

With porcelain veneers, every veneer is made by hand in a laboratory by a qualified technician. There is usually some back and forth between the dentist, the technician, and you, the patient in collaboration to create the best result for you. The additional time and trials give you every opportunity to adjust and tweak your new smile in just the way you like. Take it from me, it's very hard to imagine a different smile for yourself until it's actually on you!

Finally, when both you and your dentist are happy to proceed, your finalised veneers are placed. Even at this stage, alterations can be made before they are finally glued on or cemented.

In contrast, composite resin veneers can be done in one appointment, often on-the-spot by just your dentist. This type of composite veneers are sometimes called direct composite veneers, as the resin is directly placed on your teeth and then sculpted as required. For this reason, composite veneers are often noted as non-invasive. They usually do not require changing your underlying tooth. However, this will depend on your situation and your goals. Remember incisal translucency from above? That may be particularly difficult to achieve with non-invasive composites, as your natural teeth are just behind the veneer.

Lastly, composite veneers are typically shaped by your dentist during the appointment. That leads us to...

The People

Veneers are really a form of artistry. Give me the exact same paintbrush, paint and canvas, and I could not produce the Mona Lisa. We can't compare porcelain and composite resin as options without discussing what is arguably the biggest factor - the people involved in making your veneers! In both cases, the knowledge, experience, and skill of your dentist, technicians and support staff will influence your experience greatly.

With composite veneers, your dentist will be the one to sculpt and layer your veneers. This means they have to have to be proficient with the artistic skills used in sculpting in addition to all the clinical skills required to be a dentist.

For porcelain veneers, both your dentist and the technician play a role in the creation of your veneers. Here, the technician must be an expert in working with ceramics in dental veneers, while your dentist must be a master of placement and facial aesthetics.

In both cases, experience is key. When you are researching, look for a portfolio of work specific to your provider. Previous examples of their work will help you determine what to expect. And referencing previous cases is also a great to communicate exactly what you want to achieve aesthetically.

Additionally, in all our discussion above, we are talking about the most recent, cutting-edge materials and techniques in cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Like in any field, look for professionals that keep up to date with industry advancements.

Cost

With all of that out of the way, we can see why the cost differs between the two. Composite veneers can cost between $300 to $900 per tooth. Porcelain veneers range anywhere from $1500 to $3500 per tooth. As always, the price does vary between providers. The jump in price for porcelain has to do with the cost of the material, additional skilled work, additional appointments for adjustments, and more control over the final result (with re-dos and previews). In addition, the shorter longevity of composites means more future visits to your dentist. If we add everything up, it is no longer clear which one is actually the "cheaper" option.

The Verdict

As of today, I opted for all porcelain veneers. Longevity was definitely a big priority for me after my initial experience. And I just couldn't say no to the aesthetics that porcelain veneers offered!

At the end of the day, each option has their own pros and cons. Composites have a shorter lifespan, can be done faster, and is an affordable option. Porcelain has longer longevity, with superior aesthetic qualities, and involves more appointments for greater control. While it's hard to balance these factors, never forget that the person making the final decision is you! Take your time while doing research and look for previous work by your dentist to set your expectations.

Written By

Intan Lay

An appreciator of art, novels and high intensity sports. With a passion for work and a dangerous addiction to coffee.

Clinical Content

Dr Dee

Clinical Photos, clinical content, and cosmetic dentistry by Dr.Deepan Duraisamy (Dr Dee) BDS., MSc., FICCDE , FICOI , Vogue Dental Studios.

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Sources

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Disclaimer:

All dental procedures have their risks and benefits. Please seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified healthcare professional.

Clinical content and cases are from Dr Dee’s personal gallery, full-face photos are with due consent from our patients.