A dental crown is a tooth-shaped "cap" that is placed over a tooth to cover the tooth to restore its shape and size, strength, and improve its appearance.
The crowns, when cemented into place, fully encase the entire visible portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line.
Types of dental crowns
Different kinds of materials can be used in crowns, including:
a combination of materials
For example, you could have a porcelain crown that’s fused to metal, as opposed to an all-porcelain crown.
When selecting the material for your crown, your dentist will consider factors such as:
your tooth’s location
how much of the tooth will show when you smile
position of your gum tissue
function of the tooth that needs the crown
how much natural tooth is remaining
color of the surrounding teeth
You can also talk with your dentist about your personal preference.
A temporary crown is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a crown that’ll only remain in your mouth for a short period of time.
Your dentist will place it over your tooth with an adhesive that’s easily removed, so it won’t be as strong as a permanent crown.
This is done while you’re waiting for a permanent crown to be made. The permanent crown will be placed on your tooth at a second appointment.
Onlay or 3/4 crown
Some crowns only cover a portion of the tooth. If you don’t need a full crown, your dentist might suggest an onlay or 3/4 crown instead.
Who needs a crown?
If you have a large cavity that’s too big for a filling, it may be time for a crown.
You may also need a crown if your tooth is:
severely worn down
Crowns are also recommended following a root canal on a tooth, because the tooth is more fragile and needs protection.
You may be a candidate for a crown if you’re missing a tooth, and the dentist needs to put in a dental bridge or a tooth implant.
Dental crown costs
All-metal crowns, which are made of a metal alloy, are sometimes cheaper than gold or porcelain crowns.
Costs may also rise if the dentist has to perform more extensive prep work before putting in the crown. For example, you may need a root canal or a dental implant, both of which can drive the price up.
Dental insurance may cover all or part of the cost of your crown. However, your plan may only cover certain kinds of crowns. Check with your insurance company to get coverage details.
Talk with your dentist about the types of crowns that are available and appropriate for your dental needs to help determine your dental costs.
Dental crown procedure
The process will depend on whether your dentist opts for a multi-day or same-day procedure.
Multi-day procedure with a temporary crown
With a traditional crown, you will need to visit your dentist’s office twice.
The dentist examines and prepares the tooth that needs the crown. This might involve taking X-rays of the tooth. They also may take a mold of your tooth or mouth beforehand.
Your dentist will file down and remove part of the outer layer of the tooth.
An impression will be made of your trimmed tooth and the surrounding teeth.
The dentist will put a temporary crown over your tooth to protect it.
They send the impression to a lab that makes the crown. This step may take several weeks.
When the crown comes in, you’ll return for the second visit, so your dentist can cement the crown to your tooth.
With a same-day procedure, you can skip the temporary crown step.
The dentist takes digital pictures of your mouth.
Using the digital scan from the photos, the dentist creates the crown right there in the office. You may have to wait about 1 to 2 hours until the crown is made.
Once the crown is ready, your dentist cements it into place. The entire process takes about 2 to 4 hours.
You might even be able to head back to work while you’re waiting, depending on your specific situation.
Ask your dentist if this option is available and the estimated cost, especially if you don’t have dental insurance.
Dental crown care
Once the crown is in, it’s important to take good care of it. Careful attention to your crown can prolong its life.
Here are some helpful tips:
Practice careful brushing. If you’re not already brushing your teeth twice a day, it’s time to start. Consider using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth if your crown or the teeth around it are sensitive to heat or cold.
Flossing daily can help keep all your teeth in tip-top shape.
Avoid hard foods. Chewing ice or hard foods might cause your crown to crack, especially if you have a porcelain crown.
If you grind or clench your teeth at night, your dentist may recommend a night guard to protect your crown and surrounding teeth.
Temporary dental crown care
You’ll want to be especially gentle with a temporary crown because the adhesive is only meant for temporary installations.
Brush as usual but be extra gentle. When you floss, try to pull the floss out from the side of the tooth instead of snapping the floss back upward, which could dislodge the crown.
Call your dentist if your temporary crown comes off or breaks while you’re waiting for the permanent crown. Your dentist can reglue it or make a new one for you.
Possible complications of having a crown
A crown can be a very useful solution to a significant problem with one of your teeth. But there are risks and possible complications that you might experience after getting a crown:
It’s not unusual for a crowned tooth to be sensitive to heat or cold.
However, if your tooth is very sensitive to pressure when you bite down, the fit may be off. Talk with your dentist about possibly changing the placement of the crown or filing down the top of the crown.
Certain types of crowns, notably all-porcelain crowns, are more vulnerable to chipping. Your dentist may be able fix small chips.
The porcelain used for porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns may break away, revealing the metal structure underneath. These chips may not need to be repaired if the metal is still intact.
Crown knocked out or loose
Your crown could get loose or even fall out if there’s not enough cement keeping it in place. Call your dentist if you think your crown feels loose or wiggly.
It’s not common, but some people can have an allergic reaction to the metal used in some crowns.
If you notice your gums around your crown getting sore or irritated, or if this area starts bleeding, you may be developing gingivitis, or gum disease.
How long do dental crowns last?
The lifespan of a crown can vary between 5 and 15 years. Some crowns are sturdier than others, so they may last longer.
A monolithic crown is a crown made from a solid piece of material, such as zirconia.
However, researchers used models for their experiments. They also warned that variations in crown placement and other factors could affect the results in an actual person.
As a general rule, gold crowns and porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns tend to last the longest.
All-ceramic and all-porcelain crowns may look more natural, but they’re usually not as strong as the metal or porcelain-fused-to metal versions. All-resin crowns tend to wear down faster, too.
When taken care of, crowns can last many years.
Your dentist will most likely recommend the crown that works best for your specific situation or is the best alternative option.
For example, your tooth may be too weakened or worn down to support a regular filling, so veneer, if it’s a front tooth, or another type of treatment is recommended.
Or, your tooth may have a cavity that’s too big for a filling, and your dentist recommends a crown as the best alternative treatment option to protect the tooth.