Getting Veneers in My 40s Was the Best Decision of My Life (Or at Least One of Them)

an illustration of smiles on a green background.
Carol Yepes/Getty Images

A few years ago, Lena Dunham penned an article for Vogue about her decision whether or not to fix her imperfect teeth through cosmetic dentistry. (Ultimately, she decided not to). Around the same time, I also had a similar quandary about changing my smile, and even went to the same cosmetic “dental rock star" she talks about in her article.

It all started one day on the playground outside my son’s school.

“Why do you have a blue tooth?”

I was standing outside at pickup time when one of his first grader friends looked at me head-on and asked this pointed question, and no, unfortunately, she wasn’t talking about wireless technology. Caught off guard, I tried to explain that I had once had a root canal on my central incisor and, over time, that may have caused some discoloration. The kid looked disinterested in my explanation, my son’s teacher who had overheard the whole thing looked embarrassed, and all I wanted to do was hide my hideous teeth from the world.

As an adult, I’ve come to accept and genuinely love most things about my looks. But this child’s comment about my tooth had seriously shaken my confidence.

Later that night, I scrolled through Facebook and there it was in almost all recent pictures – a discoloration that I had told myself my top lip covered but was now starring me in the face like clues from an M. Night Shyamalan movie once you know the ending. I had never thought of myself as someone who would get cosmetic dentistry, or any type of cosmetic procedure, for that matter.

Unsure how to reconcile changing something so central to my appearance, I placed a call to Connie Sobczak, co-founder of The Body Positive, a national organization that teaches youth and adults to value their own unique beauty. She told me that making a change to your appearance is an individual decision, and that there is no right or wrong. “Think about what your motivation is,” she urged me. “Where is the desire coming from? Is it from other people or outside messages that ‘I need to fix myself’? Or is it something you want to do for you?”

Ok, so initially it was an outside comment that had made me question my looks. But truthfully, I wasn’t happy with the way my teeth looked.

I didn’t want a blindingly white, Hollywood smile, so I decided to visit my family dentist. He offered a solution – internal tooth bleaching, and after three rounds of having bleach inserted into the tooth, I noticed that the discoloration was almost gone. It seemed like my problem was solved until one night I bit into a baguette and – crack! My weakened tooth was hanging by a thread and I was freaked out (to say the least). The next morning, the dentist took off the front of the tooth and gave me a temporary crown. When he handed me a mirror, I gasped at the giant Chiclet staring back at me.

It amazed me how much a little thing like a tooth changed my whole outlook. I didn’t want anyone to see it, so much so that I actually considered cancelling a gathering with my closest friends. We still got together and being good friends, they told me it really wasn’t that noticeable. (It was.)

“You can actually reframe your ideas of what is beautiful and see beyond what you’re told to see,” said Sobczak.  She explained to me the concept of wabi-sabi, the Japanese idea of seeing beauty in things we don’t traditionally view as beautiful. “There’s beauty in crooked mouths and rough edges,” said Sobczak. “Nothing is perfect.”

But when my permanent crown finally arrived and the family dentist fit it into my mouth, I was unable to hide my disappointment. It looked glaringly unnatural – a beacon of fake looking white next to my other not-so-white teeth. The next day I placed a call to Apa Aesthetic to make an appointment with Dr. Michael Apa, D.D.S., the best cosmetic dentist in the business.

Dr. Apa’s Manhattan office looks like a spa with state-of-the-art tools and an in-house ceramics lab. Apa’s Instagram page showcases his astonishingly natural looking before and afters and with offices in NYC, LA and Dubai, he’s known for doing the smiles of celebs. At my first appointment, Apa’s team took what felt like a million x-rays of my teeth, followed by a series of photographs. When my smile was projected onto the screen next to the dentist chair where I sat, I was disconcerted to say the least – there was my fake looking crown, flanked by mismatched little incisors. It was strange to see my flaws so close up, but I steadied myself, knowing it was all with the purpose of achieving a great end result.

Sobczak assured me that it was possible to fix my smile and still celebrate and uphold everything about the body positivity movement. “When I was 40, I got braces,” she told me. “We can see beauty and still want to make changes. We all have our own journey.”

Dr. Apa entered the exam room and quickly gave me the bad news – the crown on my front tooth was a bad fit and it was decaying (ew). The only option was to remove the tooth and place a dental implant. All my worries about changing something about my face suddenly seemed trite now that I knew there was an actual, medical reason for me to undergo dental surgery.

When Apa pulled up the picture of my smile on an iPad and drew on my teeth with a smart pen, showing me how he would enlarge my smaller, discolored lateral incisors with veneers, thin porcelain shells that go over the existing teeth, I could instantly see his vision. Yes, he’s an amazing dentist, but also an artist. I scheduled my appointment for the implant, with Apa’s right hand man, periodontist Dr. Graig Fischgrund,knowing that I was in the right place.

On the day of my first procedure, my old crown (and entire remaining front tooth) was removed, and a dental implant was placed. Thankfully, I was able to leave that day with temporaries on the implant and the three other neighboring top teeth that already made my smile look more natural than anything I’d been sporting. Over the next few months, I was careful not to bite down on my front teeth so that the implant could fuse to the bone before the permanent crown and neighboring veneers were placed. At the appointments that followed, Dr. Apa and his team took tons of pictures, x-rays and molds, checking the color of the veneers they had hand-made specifically for me to make sure they looked not only beautiful but natural next to my other teeth.

veneers before and after
Andi Jean Miro, D.D.S., for Apa Aesthetic.

By the time the permanent porcelain veneers were placed, my confidence had already skyrocketed – I was smiling with teeth in photos again and taking selfies. Amazingly, my teeth looked like they had always been this way – they were perfectly sized to fit my facial features and white but not too white. When I came in for my “after” pictures, Dr. Andi-Jean Miro who had seen me throughout the process noticed my red lipstick and matching sweater and commented that many patients suddenly start making bolder choices after undergoing their transformations.

And even though the look was a subtle change for the better, internally, it was a big transformation that spilled over into other areas of my life. With my newfound increased confidence, I was quicker to talk to people I didn’t know, more eager to seek out new opportunities.

Looking back at Lena Dunham’s article, I love the fact that she decided to celebrate the differences in her appearance instead of bowing to the pressure from her publicists and the internet to conform. I’m not a public figure, so I don’t have the same public scrutiny of my appearance that she endures, but I totally related to the conundrum of whether to change something about yourself that makes you unique or to accept it and even celebrate it.

For her, keeping her quirky smile was the right decision, but I’m so glad that I altered mine. With just four veneers on my top front teeth, my whole demeanor changed and my confidence now shines through. And while the process of getting the work done was long and sometimes uncomfortable, I actually looked forward to it, knowing that I was lucky to be getting the chance to improve an aspect of myself I wasn’t happy with.

Fixing my teeth wasn’t something I did for anyone else – it was for me, and the external change led to an internal one. Almost four years since getting them done, my new smile is now normal to me, but the transformation I underwent still feels extraordinary.

Freelance PureWow Editor

Ronnie Koenig is a writer with 20+ years’ experience who got her start at Playgirl and went on to write for Cosmo, Redbook, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many others. She’s...