It’s an understandable confusion. When they hear the term, “porcelain veneers,” people think they’re going to get something fragile on their teeth. Our experience with porcelain would certainly lead you to believe that. After all, most of us have the unfortunate experience of dropping a plate, mug, or porcelain figurine and seeing it shatter into thousands of tiny shards.

Fortunately, that’s not what we use for veneers, and it’s not how your veneers will behave.

The First Porcelain Veneers

Porcelain was naturally an attractive material for making dental restorations. Although porcelain was invented in China sometime before 200 BC, it was not introduced into Europe until the Renaissance, traveling via the Silk Road through Islamic countries and into Italy. It got its name from porcellana, the Latin word for cowrie shells, which are white and translucent, similar to the ceramic.

This was still several centuries before dentistry became a widespread obsession, and the color and translucency of the material made it an ideal choice for making artificial teeth in the first dentures during the 1700s. By this time, Europeans had learned the secrets of making this material, so they could manufacture custom teeth.

Porcelain veneers

But it wasn’t until the Hollywood era that porcelain came to be used for veneers. When talking pictures took over, many of the old stars of the silent era–those who had a pretty face but not a good voice–had to make way for others that could deliver lines. Unfortunately, the US was currently at the low point when it comes to oral health. That’s a whole story on its own, but what’s important is that many stars didn’t have great teeth.

To fix this problem, makeup artist Max Factor invited in friend and cosmetic dentist Charles L. Pincus. The goal was to do for their teeth what makeup had done for their faces.

Pincus designed veneers that really were made of porcelain, and they were fragile like porcelain. Actors had to take them out between takes. When these veneers became popular outside of Hollywood, people who had them had to be very careful. But it was because of his work that we still have a notion that Hollywood stars have the greatest smiles.

The Promise of Porcelain

True porcelain was used in veneers through the 1980s. Since then, advanced ceramics have been developed that allow for stronger veneers. At first, it was just stronger forms of porcelain, but, eventually, entire new classes of ceramics were developed. We talk about some of the modern ceramics in another blog. The important thing to understand here is that porcelain veneers aren’t really made of porcelain anymore.

So why do we still call them porcelain veneers? Partly, it’s just tradition, kind of like many people call food cans “tin cans” even though tin isn’t used much in them anymore.

But it’s also partly because other names–like “dental veneers”–don’t capture the qualities of porcelain that modern veneers still have: whiteness and translucency if we’re looking at physical characteristics. Also elegance, distinction, and preciousness. There was a time in this country, when every piece of porcelain had made its way carefully overland from China to Italy, and thence to England or Spain before being carried across the ocean to the New World. These were objects of tremendous value and transcendent beauty that were treated with extreme care.

When we use porcelain veneers to give you a smile makeover, we give you and your smile that level of care, even though your modern veneers aren’t fragile like porcelain of olde. That promise of care and quality is why we still call them “porcelain veneers,” even though they don’t have any porcelain in them.

If you are looking for a Savannah cosmetic dentist that will treat your smile with maximum care to ensure you get the most beautiful and natural results, please call (912) 234-8282 today for an appointment at Beyond Exceptional Dentistry.