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What is a dental crown?
A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap. Dentists use crowns to restore weak, broken or decayed teeth.
A crown fits over your entire tooth, like a snug hat. To ensure a proper fit, a dentist will need to remove a small amount of enamel before bonding your new crown in place.
Dental technicians craft crowns from a variety of materials, including resin, metal and porcelain.
When would you need a dental crown?
Crowns serve several purposes. You may need a dental crown to:
- Strengthen a weak tooth.
- Protect and support a cracked tooth.
- Restore a worn-down or broken tooth.
- Hold a dental bridge in place.
- Cover a severely stained or discolored tooth.
- Cover a root canal-treated tooth.
- Cover a dental implant.
Types of dental crowns
There are many types of dental crowns. The kind that’s right for you depends on your personal preferences and unique oral health needs.
Dental technicians use several metals to make dental crowns, including gold, palladium, nickel and chromium. Metal crowns rarely chip or break, last the longest in terms of wear and only require a small amount of enamel removal. They can also withstand biting and chewing forces.
The metallic color is the main drawback of this type of crown. Metal crowns are a good choice for out-of-sight molars.
Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns
Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns combine the durability of metal and the natural look of porcelain. Dentists can match these crowns to the shade of your own teeth.
Despite their strength, PFM crowns have some drawbacks. For example, the porcelain coating may chip off over time, exposing the metal underneath. In addition, PFM crowns may gradually wear down the enamel on your opposing teeth (the teeth that touch your crown when you close your mouth).
PFM crowns last almost as long as metal crowns. They can restore both front and back teeth.
Pressed ceramic crowns
A pressed ceramic crown has a hard inner core. It’s similar to a PFM, but the core is ceramic instead of metal. To make this inner core, a technician melts and presses ceramic in an oven at a very high temperature. Next, they add multiple layers of porcelain. Like all-porcelain crowns, pressed ceramic crowns mimic the translucency of natural tooth enamel.
Pressed ceramic crowns have the same drawbacks as PFM crowns. The layers of ceramic can chip away over time. Dentists use pressed ceramic crowns on front and back teeth.
All-ceramic or porcelain crowns
All-ceramic or porcelain crowns mimic the appearance of tooth enamel more than any other crown type. They’re also a good choice if you have metal allergies.
Lab technicians use many different materials to make ceramic crowns, but one of the most popular is zirconium dioxide. Zirconia crowns are extremely durable and can withstand heavier forces than other types of ceramic crowns. They’re also gentle on your opposing teeth, resulting in less enamel wear.
Same-day dental crowns
Many dentists use CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) technology to create crowns in their office while you wait. This software allows your dentist to take digital dental impressions of your teeth, and then use those impressions to design a custom crown. Once your dentist designs your crown, they’ll send the image files to an on-site milling machine. The machine will craft your new crown from a solid block of ceramic.
The main advantage of CAD/CAM technology is that you can get a dental crown in just one office visit. However, same-day crowns aren’t for everyone. Ask your dentist if you’re a candidate.
Dental crowns made out of resin are generally less expensive than other types of crowns. But they’re fragile and more likely to break compared to porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns.
Dentists often use resin to make temporary crowns. They last three to five years on average.
What happens during a dental crown procedure?
Dental crown placement usually requires two appointments:
Steps for a dental crown procedure include:
- Preparing your tooth. To prepare your tooth for a crown, your dentist will need to remove some of your natural enamel. This makes space for your new crown and ensures that it will stay in place once bonded. Your dentist may also use a filling material to build up certain parts of your tooth. During this step, the main goal is to create a strong foundation for your new crown.
- Dental impressions. Next, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth. These may be physical impressions taken with a putty-like material or digital impressions taken with a handheld scanner. Your dentist will send these impressions to a dental lab. There, a technician will use them to create your custom dental crown.
- Temporary crown placement. It usually takes two to three weeks — sometimes longer — for a dental lab to make your new crown. While you wait on your final crown, your dentist will place a temporary one. Temporary crowns are usually made of resin or acrylic.
When the lab finishes your new crown, they’ll send it back to your dentist’s office. During a second office visit, your dentist will:
- Remove your temporary crown.
- Check the shape, color and fit of your new crown.
- Bond the new crown to your tooth using a strong dental cement.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of dental crowns?
The most notable advantage of a dental crown is that it can prolong the life of a natural tooth. Specifically, crowns can:
- Treat worn, broken or decayed teeth.
- Protect teeth from erosion (wear and tear).
- Improve chewing function.
- Enhance your appearance.
- Last between five and 15 years with proper care.
What are the disadvantages of dental crowns?
There are also some disadvantages. For example, crowns:
- Require some removal of natural tooth enamel.
- May cause teeth sensitivity, especially in the first few weeks after placement.
- Can break or fracture over time.
- Can trap bacteria and lead to decay if they don’t fit properly.
- May cause an allergic reaction in some people. (This is rare.)
- May be expensive.
Recovery and Outlook
How long does it take to feel better after a dental crown procedure?
Most people can resume work, school and other routine activities immediately following crown placement. However, it’s normal to experience some degree of sensitivity for a couple of weeks — especially to heat and cold.
You may also have some soreness or tenderness in your gums around the treated tooth. These side effects are normal and should go away in a few days. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to ease any discomfort.
Foods to avoid with a crown
Whether you have a temporary or permanent crown, there are foods you should avoid, including:
- Ice cubes.
- Extremely hard nuts.
- Popcorn (with kernels).
- Super sticky foods like taffy and caramels.
These foods can damage or dislodge (pull off) your crown.
Are dental crowns permanent?
Dental crowns can last upwards of 30 years with proper care and maintenance. But you might need to replace yours sooner if it gets cracked or damaged.
How long do crowns last?
The average lifespan of a dental crown is five to 15 years. If you notice wear, tear or damage, it’s time for dental crown replacement.
How do I care for my dental crown?
To keep your dental crown in good condition:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Floss between your teeth once every day.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash to keep dental plaque and harmful bacteria at bay.
- Avoid extremely hard, crunchy or chewy foods.
- If you grind or clench your teeth (bruxism), ask your dentist about wearing a custom mouth guard.
- Get regular dental cleanings and exams.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call a dentist?
If you have a dental crown, you should call your dentist if you notice:
- A loose crown.
- Bad breath or a bad taste.
- Cracks or chips in your crown.
- Sharp edges that bother your tongue or gums.
Are dental crowns painful?
Your dental crown shouldn’t be painful. While it’s normal to have some sensitivity after crown placement, you shouldn’t have pain or discomfort that keeps you up at night.
During the procedure itself, let your dentist know if you feel pain. They can give you more anesthesia to keep you comfortable.
Veneers vs. crowns: Which option is right for me?
A dental crown fits over your entire tooth. A veneer is a thin porcelain shell that covers the front surface of your tooth. The option that’s right for you will depend on your specific goals:
- Veneers are cosmetic in nature. They cover chips, cracks, discoloration and other aesthetic concerns.
- Crowns are restorative in nature. The main goal is to improve the health of a tooth, but a crown can enhance the appearance of your tooth, as well.
What’s the most common alternative to a crown?
There are several alternatives to crowns, depending on your oral health goals:
- Inlays and onlays. An inlay or onlay can restore a tooth that’s too damaged for a dental filling, but too healthy to warrant a crown. This type of restoration fits into the affected portion of your tooth like a puzzle piece.
- Veneers. If you have cosmetic concerns but no decay or damage, then veneers may be the way to go. These custom-made ceramic shells adhere to the front surfaces of your teeth. Veneers cover chips, cracks and tooth discoloration.
- Tooth extraction and dental implant. If you have a severely decayed or broken tooth, a crown may not offer a predictable outcome. In these cases, your dentist may recommend pulling your tooth and replacing it with a dental implant.
Dental cap vs. crown: Is there a difference?
There’s no difference. These are two different names for the same restoration. Some people call crowns “caps” because they cover your teeth.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dental crowns can restore worn, damaged or decayed teeth. There are several types of crowns made from a variety of materials. The type of crown that’s best for you depends on several factors, including your budget, personal preferences and oral health goals. Crowns are durable, but they’re not indestructible. They’ll need replacing at some point. Regular dental visits and proper oral hygiene can keep your crown in good condition for years to come.
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- Northeast Ohio 216.444.8500
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