A smile is worth a thousand words—and about $100,000.

“A lot of people are working from home and on Zoom calls staring at their own teeth all day long,” says celebrity cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor. Dr. Lowenberg has worked with big names like 50 Cent, Roberta Flack, and the Rolling Stones.

The increased amount of time spent focusing on smiles made some eager to take more control of their look. A 2017 study by Dental Clinics of North America found that 80% of Americans aged 18 – 49 want brighter teeth, while another found that 30% of adults surveyed by izzo were willing to trade sex for a month for a brighter grin.

When vacations and hitting the town took the first major hit during the earliest days of COVID, people used the opportunity to invest in themselves after pondering over it for years. This is where veneers entered, or rather, began taking over the frame.

Veneers are false, porcelain teeth that mask a person’s original teeth. They can also be made from resin composite materials, but these fill-ins aren’t as stain-resistant. Celebrities have talked about getting a new grin (“Got a bag and fixed my teeth,” Cardi B rapped on smash single “Bodak Yellow”), but the procedure isn’t just for the famous—everyday people are looking to get veneers.

Age doesn’t factor in to people’s decisions to get work done on their teeth, either.

“It used to be older people whose teeth have deteriorated with age, but now I have just as many young people coming in for veneers,” Dr. Lowenberg said to ESSENCE. “I think social media has driven up the awareness to what your smile looks like through selfies and posts and people are much more aware of the way their teeth look in pictures. So many people who come in actually comment it’s because they saw a picture of how their teeth looked, not by just simply looking in the mirror.” He believes that this focus on how we present, and are perceived, on social, is yet another reason investments in veneers are up 20 percent at his office.

We spoke with Dr. Lowenberg via email to discuss veneers in depth, learn more about teeth grinding, the cost of veneers and more.

ESSENCE: What are veneers? 

Dr. Lowenberg: Beautiful, natural looking veneers can vastly improve your smile and can actually take 5-10 years off of your appearance without surgery and brighten it for a subtle change. Veneers can correct dark stained teeth, crooked teeth, short teeth, a narrow arch, an aging smile, and if done correctly can transform any smile into a beautiful one. In fact, sometimes LLK uses veneers to reshape the teeth can correct droopy lip corners as well as provide lip support. It’s also possible to widen the arch form and build out the teeth in a way as to minimize the nasal labial folds and smokers lines. 

The porcelain material used in veneers has improved over the years with a variety of different porcelains reflecting different qualities. The thickness of a veneer is solely based on the artistic talents of the ceramist who makes them. Our master ceramist, Jason Kim, is a true artist and his veneers are delicate and life like. In the 80s when the procedure was new, more tooth structure was removed then is today, but the amount of tooth structure removed never approached that which is necessary for crowns. Today, less tooth structure is removed because of the superiority of the bonding agents used. Today’s better looking veneers are totally based on the artistry of the ceramist and the dentist. We are artists where the medium is porcelain and the creation is that viewed by ceramist and dentist.

Why do you believe there’s been an uptick in teeth grinding since the pandemic began? 

We have noticed an increase in TMJ problems, which is the joint that opens and closes the mouth. During COVID, the anxiety surrounding the virus caused an acceleration in the number of people who started grinding their teeth, and therefore irritating the TMJ, which is painful. The other impact in teeth grinding is that we actually wear down the enamel which causes teeth to chip and break.  The best way to minimize the effects of grinding is to sleep with a night guard, preferably one made by your dentist. This will prevent further damage caused by grinding.

How long does it take to get porcelain veneers installed?

Veneers take two visits to the dentist, usually one week apart. The focus of the first visit is to make room for the laminates in your mouth, so the tooth structure is slightly reduced by less than one millimeter. At the second visit, the new veneers are fitted, and cemented onto your teeth. Both visits are performed under local anesthesia and during the period between the first and second visit the patient wears temporary veneers, which enables the patient to function in their daily life. 

What does upkeep look like? Do they have to be redone every few years? 

Once the procedure is completed, we have the patient come back a week later to adjust the bite or occlusion of the new teeth. Porcelain veneers last anywhere from 10-20 years and takes just two visits to the dentist to transform your smile.

How much do veneers cost?

At LLK, it ranges between $3000-$3500 per tooth.

What are some alternatives to veneers?

Cosmetic Reshaping is another option to consider – this is when a dentist reshapes existing teeth without the use of bonding or veneers. Cosmetic reshaping treats individual teeth that may be pointy, too long or have jagged/chipped edges and can be done in 1-2 visits.

Invisalign is also very popular among adults. As we age, our teeth tend to move, rotate and in general, become crowded. People that actually like the color and shape of their teeth, but don’t like the “crookedness,” tend to opt for Invisalign rather than porcelain veneers.  However, using Invisalign requires dedication to the process, wearing the Invisalign trays 20 hours a day, and maybe for 6-18 months.