A dental crown is usually the end result of a procedure known as a root canal, in which a decayed but salvageable tooth is drilled to remove diseased pulp and the tooth’s nerve. The now-hollowed tooth is filled with an anti-microbial, rubber-like material called gutta-percha. While a root canal will save the tooth (an adult tooth does not need pulp or the nerve to function) and help keep the jaw clear from infection, the gutta-percha is soft enough to deform under pressure. Furthermore, since a root canal requires drilling into the tooth itself, the structure of the tooth is weakened. A crown, which is made of durable materials, will add much-needed strength to the repaired tooth.
However, root canals are not the only circumstances under which a dentist may recommend a crown. What are dental crowns? And when else might a dentist recommend them?
What are dental crowns?
In very simple terms, dental crowns are coverings that are placed atop a tooth (in the same way that a royal crown is placed on a king or queen’s head). Temporary crowns, which are rudimentary coverings, might be put on in case of absolute emergency or while waiting for a permanent crown to be fashioned. Permanent crowns, by contrast, are made to imitate as closely as possible the size, shape, and overall appearance of the tooth over which it is placed, or which it is intended to replace.
Crowns can be made from a number of substances, which differ in strength, durability, and visual appeal, and because of that, these materials vary in cost.
Usually, crowns are made of:
- Zirconium dioxide
- Porcelain ceramic
- Metal, such as gold, platinum, cobalt-chromium alloys, or nickel-chromium alloys.
- Porcelain fused atop metal
Other materials can include Lithium Disilicate glass (known as E.MAX), resins, and stainless steel (which are typically used in children on non-permanent teeth).
When are crowns recommended?
There are many circumstances under which a dentist might recommend a crown:
In recent years, it has become more common to place crowns on top of teeth that are otherwise healthy but so discolored that they resist other whitening treatments, such as bleaching or veneers.
Saving badly damaged tooth
Teeth may sometimes be cracked or broken due to an accident or some other misadventure and might become so weakened that they might be lost. Similarly, tooth decay might require a single tooth to be treated with multiple fillings, which might cause structural damage that could lead to tooth loss. A crown will help add stability and protection to such teeth.
Saving a tooth that has become worn or weakened
Teeth may sometimes be weakened over time. Those who suffer from conditions like acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can see tooth enamel eroded due to acid. Likewise, tooth-grinding (bruxism) can cause a tooth to be ground into malformation. Such teeth are in danger of breaking or being lost altogether, and their unusual shape might affect bite and tooth alignment. Putting a crown on such teeth will protect the misshapen teeth, save them from further wear, prevent breaking, and preserve the bite and the straightness of the smile.
Generally, a dentist will do whatever he or she can to save a tooth, since missing teeth can lead to a variety of other dental issues. For the same reasons, dentists will also almost always recommend replacing a tooth that has been lost.
For single teeth that have been lost, one of the best methods for tooth replacement is a dental implant. This will involve drilling into the jawbone and putting in a peg-like piece called an abutment into the socket where the missing tooth used to be. A crown in the shape of the original tooth is placed on top of this abutment, which allows the replacement tooth not only to function like the missing tooth but to preserve the bite and tooth alignment.
Another option for tooth replacement is a bridge. A bridge will often be suggested to replace two or more missing teeth, provided they are all adjacent to each other. A bridge works by attaching false replacement teeth to existing teeth, usually on wires that are adhered to existing teeth, functioning as anchors. A crown placed over these anchors can provide additional security.
Crowns can be suggested to patients for several reasons, including for the final stage of a root canal. Crowns can restore the appearance of teeth, save teeth that are damaged or weakened from becoming lost, and restore teeth that are already missing. A dentist can always provide more information about crowns and whether they are the right choice for a patient’s needs.