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What is a crown?

If you have a damaged or decayed tooth, your dentist has probably suggested a crown. Even though a crown is one of the most commonly performed dental procedures, it's important to understand exactly what it is and how it helps, especially with other options you might have available.

So, what is a crown?

A crown, put simply, is a covering for replacing tooth structure that’s been lost due to damage or decay. It’s also commonly called a “jacket” or a “cap,” because it covers the top of your tooth.

Why would I need a crown?

There are several reasons to consider a crown:

  • They look good. Many people get crowns to help their teeth look better. Crowns can cover teeth that are misshapen or badly discolored.
  • They make teeth stronger. Crowns are also good at strengthening teeth, especially if the tooth has been broken or damaged.
  • You don’t have other options. Your dentist may recommend a crown when other restoration options aren’t enough to protect the tooth because the damage is too severe.
  • They’re supportive. Crowns can support teeth with large fillings.

The neat thing about a crown is that it can be used with other procedures like a bridge or an implant:

  • If you have a bridge: You’ll get crowns on either end of the missing tooth to help secure the bridge.
  • If you have an implant: You’ll be fitted for a crown to cover the implant.
  • If you have a root canal: You’ll usually get a crown to protect the weakened tooth.

What happens when I get a crown?

Like many other dental procedures, getting a crown is a multi-step process, but it’s not particularly difficult. The most important part is making sure the crown properly fits to the tooth it’s going to cover.

  1. Your dentist will take x-rays to examine the roots of the affected tooth.
  2. The tooth that will have the crown is filed down to make room for the crown itself. How much it’s filed depends on the material that will be used in the crown (more on that later).
  3. Once the tooth is filed, your dentist will either make an impression of your tooth or take digital scans that will provide a “mold” of your tooth’s dimensions.
  4. Your dentist will apply a temporary crown until your permanent crown is ready. This temporary version is usually acrylic and is cemented into place. Depending on where your dentist has crowns made (either in the office or off-site at a lab), it will probably take about two weeks for the permanent crown to be finished.
  5. When your permanent crown is ready, you’ll go back to your dentist and have the temporary crown removed. Your dentist will double-check that the permanent one matches your other teeth, both in fit and color.
  6. Once everything looks good, the dentist cements the crown into place. Your natural tooth remains under the crown.

What is a crown made of?

A crown is usually made of porcelain, metal (like gold or stainless steel) or a combination of the two. Your options may include:

  • Stainless steel. This material is usually used for the temporary crown because it’s not very expensive. Stainless steel works well for back molars because these teeth are less visible. The color can be a detriment, however, which is why they’re usually used in the back of the mouth.
  • Noble metals. These are usually gold or platinum, which makes them the most popular type of material. Noble metals last longer, rarely chip and withstand long-term biting and chewing better than other materials. These are also usually used on back molars because of their color.
  • Composite resin. This material is a combination of plastic type materials that are color-matched to the natural teeth.
  • Ceramic or all-porcelain. This is ideal if you have a metal allergy. These are typically used for front or back teeth because they also provide a good match with your tooth color and look the most like real teeth. The only catch is they can chip or break more easily than full metal crowns.
  • Porcelain and metal combination. These can be colored to match your teeth, and they work well for both your front and back teeth. These crowns can provide both good aesthetics and strength.

How long will a crown last?

A crown can be a great option if you need to protect a tooth, and if you take care of it, your crown is likely to last anywhere from ten to 20 years.

The usual rules apply: Brush and floss daily, maintain regular dental visits and see your dentist if anything seems out of the ordinary.

Last updated February 7, 2022

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.