For Patients: What’s Involved in Getting Dental Crowns?

Source: DenteMax

a woman consults with her dentist on dental crown options

If your dentist has suggested the possibility of getting a dental crown to treat an issue, you probably have several questions. Here’s the thing: the term “dental crown” actually takes in a number of different situations and procedures, so narrowing down the reason for the recommendation is key to getting your questions answered.

In this quick guide, we’ll cover the most common reasons dentists recommend dental crowns, the types of dental crowns available, an overview of the basic procedure and what you can expect after it’s done.

What is a dental crown and what does it do?

A dental crown is a restorative device a dentist will install to protect weak or damaged teeth and/or improve the appearance or functionality of teeth that are misshapen or discolored. Generally, the dentist will want to retain as much of the natural tooth as possible, so other procedures such as whitening, veneers, bonding and fillings are recommended to repair minor chips or make purely cosmetic improvements. More significant damage that weakens the tooth or requires a large portion of it to be removed (but does not require extraction), will likely entail a dental crown.

The crown itself is made to look like a natural tooth, colored to match the teeth that will surround it. It is hollow in the center and cemented in place by adhering to what remains of the tooth it’s replacing. Alternatively, if a tooth is completely missing, a crown can be cemented to an implanted post to fill the gap. Dental crowns are also used to install a bridge to replace one or more missing teeth.

What types of dental crowns are there?

Crowns can be made from several different materials, each with their own pros and cons:
  • Gold alloy
  • Stainless steel
  • Porcelain / ceramic
  • Composite
  • Zirconia Hybrid (porcelain on the outside fused to metal or zirconia on the inside)
Generally, metal crowns are thinner, so less of the natural tooth surface needs to be removed to install them. They are also quite durable, with gold dental crowns being the traditional favorite. Of course, gold doesn’t look like a natural tooth, but some metal alloys can be effectively colored.

Some patients prefer porcelain ceramic crowns because they look the most like natural teeth, but they are historically less durable. They are also thicker than metal crowns, so they require more of the natural tooth to be removed. Newer types of ceramic crowns are proving significantly stronger than their older counterparts.

You should discuss the material options with your dentist prior to having any work done so that you’re comfortable with whichever material you end up receiving.

What is involved in a dental crown procedure?
The procedure required to install one dental crown will generally require two visits to the dentist:

The first visit

At the first visit, the dentist will examine your tooth thoroughly, which may require x-rays. They need to ensure the tooth’s root and remaining structure are strong and healthy enough to support the crown and function properly under normal stress once the crown is installed.

They will then prepare your tooth to hold the crown. This usually involves grinding the tooth down into a tapered cylinder with a shallow hole at the top. A root canal may be required during this part of the procedure, depending on how far the tooth needs to be ground down. If the tooth’s root and surrounding jawbone are strong, but too much material above the gum line needs to be removed, the dentist may choose to build up the tooth using filling material, which will then need to be shaped at a subsequent visit.

Once your tooth is properly shaped to receive the crown, the dentist will take an impression of your teeth using a paste or putty that retains an imprint of the shaped tooth and its counterpart in the other jaw to ensure the crown is perfectly fitted to both for optimal bite.

Finally, a temporary crown is installed to protect the prepared tooth and provide some functionality. On most occasions, this temporary crown is noticeably artificial and installed using weak cement. It’s not intended to function appropriately for very long.

The second visit

Between the first and second visits, the teeth impressions and detailed instructions from the dentist are sent to a dental laboratory where a custom dental crown is created.

At the second visit, your temporary crown will be removed and the permanent crown installed using much stronger dental cement. The dentist may need to make minor adjustments to the shape of the custom crown to fine-tune the bite. Within a few minutes, the cement will harden enough to keep the crown in place, but you should wait 2-3 hours before biting or chewing with your new permanent dental crown.

Some dental offices have a laboratory on-site and can produce permanent, custom crowns in as little as 15 minutes. If that’s the case with your dentist, the crown process can potentially be completed during one visit. 

What happens after the dental crown is in place?

Within a few hours, you should be able to bite and chew as normal with your new crown. It’s not unusual to feel some very minor residual pain or sensitivity around the crown as a result of the shaping and installation procedures, but you should be able to control this with over-the-counter pain medication and it should pass within a few days. After that, the average dental crown has a lifespan of about 15 years.

Ideally, as time passes, you won’t need to think about your crown. It should feel and function just like a better version of your own tooth. However, it’s important to keep up your regular schedule of visits to the dentist for a routine examination and cleaning. If you experience any pain or discomfort around the crown, or if you think it may have been damaged or loosened, see your dentist immediately.

The bottom line:
A dental crown could encompass several situations and procedures, so talk with your dentist to get the full scope of what your specific needs are. Knowing what to expect before and after the process will help ease your mind and give you the knowledge you need to make the decision with your dentist that is best for your health and budget.