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How Does a Dental Crown Work?

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3D illustration of dental crown being used on model.

If you’ve come in for your regular dental checkup and were told you need a dental crown, you probably have some questions. What is a dental crown? What are they used for? Is this going to hurt?

While there’s no substitute for talking to your dentist, who knows your oral health and is your partner in care, we’ve given you a handy run-down of dental crowns here on the blog. Read on to discover the basics of dental crowns, including how they work, what they’re made of, and how they’re placed.

How Dental Crowns Work

Dental crowns are sometimes called caps, and they cover a natural tooth to help restore its look and function. Crowns may prevent the need to remove a natural tooth after it’s been damaged, weakened, or cracked.

Traditional Dental Crowns

There’s a long history of crown-like appliances being used in dentistry—scholars have found that gold crowns were used thousands of years ago. Of course, the process has been refined, updated, and advanced in the centuries since then.

Having a dental crown installed is a multi-visit process. Normally at least 2 visits will be needed. The first will likely involve assessing your teeth and filling the tooth that needs the crown down to get a snug fit.

Following that, an impression of the tooth is taken and sent to a lab, where your crown is crafted. A temporary crown will be fitted. The interim cap will be worn until the follow-up appointment for the final crown installation.

CEREC Crowns

A CEREC crown is also called a Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics crown. These crowns are made in-office using computer-assisted design (CAD) and manufacturing. One of the main upsides of CEREC crowns is how quickly they can be installed. 

In some ways, you can think of CEREC technology as you think of a 3D printer. CEREC crowns use digital pictures or scans of the mouth to take an impression of the tooth. After these are taken, CAD technology is used to create the model of the crown.

The crown is milled from ceramic in as little as 15 minutes. Then it’s polished and placed by your dentist.

One pro of a CEREC crown is its natural-looking appearance. Since they are made of the same material through to the center, they tend to have an even shade that closely matches natural teeth.

Why You Might Need a Crown

A crown can help in situations such as:

3D illustration of different dental crowns made from different material.

What is Your Crown Made From?

Plenty of materials can be used to craft your crown. These include:

  • Gold 
  • Metal alloys (such as nickel and chromium)
  • Porcelain
  • Porcelain fused to metal
  • Composite resin 

These materials all have different hardness levels, which can affect their durability and longevity. Since the back teeth tend to take on more pressure from your bite, you’ll generally find stronger metal caps on the molars.

The material used to create the crown may depend on where the tooth needing treatment sits in the mouth. For example, gold is one of the oldest materials used for crowns. But since a gold cap on a front tooth is very noticeable, you’re more likely to have a porcelain or resin cap towards the front of your mouth.

Steps of Placing a Crown

Except for CEREC crowns, which are often a one-day procedure, crowns generally take at least 2 visits to install. But the steps are similar whether you’re getting a traditional or CEREC crown.

Numbing the Tooth

Your dentist will apply a local anesthetic to the area around your tooth. This helps keep the procedure as comfortable as possible.

Preparing the Tooth

The natural tooth that is having the crown fitted will need to be prepared for the procedure. Often that means the tooth will be filed or trimmed down, giving a good base for the crown to slip over. 

If there’s damage to the pulp in the center of the tooth, a root canal may be in order before the crown is installed.

Preliminary Impressions and Shade

Once the tooth is ready, an impression is taken, either using a physical moulding agent or a digital scan, depending on the technology your dentist uses. The impression is sent to a lab to have the crown prepared, or the crown is designed using CAD technology.

At Shawnessy Dental Centre, we use VITA Easyshade® to shade match your crown to your tooth. This way we can get a close match to the colour of your teeth to keep the crown looking more natural.

Placing a Temporary Crown 

With most types of crowns, you’ll have a temporary crown installed over the tooth in question until the final crown is crafted and sent back from the lab. CEREC crowns are the exception to this step since they’re prepared in-house.

You must come back to get your final crown. The temporary crown isn’t as strong as the final crown and may be more prone to damage. Take care when eating and brushing with a temporary crown.

If the temporary crown falls out or is damaged, contact your dentist so it can be reglued or replaced.

Dental Crown Aftercare

Once your dental crown is in place, it needs the same attention and care as your natural teeth. Be sure to keep up a good oral health routine, with regular brushing and flossing. Don’t forget to come to the dentist for routine exams and cleanings.

Try not to bite down on anything hard with excessive force once you’ve had a crown installed. This is good advice for your natural teeth, too, but it’s crucial when you have a ceramic or resin crown.

Dental Crown FAQs

Does Getting a Crown Hurt?

A local anesthetic is used around the tooth being treated, which should help keep pain at bay. There’s a chance of discomfort, as with any dental procedure, but if you feel pain, let your dentist know. You may need more anesthetic. 

Some patients have noted increased sensitivity, especially immediately after the procedure. There’s a chance of developing sensitivity to temperature in the crowned tooth, too. However, if you feel discomfort when you bite down on the tooth, you may need to visit the dentist for an adjustment.

What Are the Benefits of Dental Crowns?

Dental crowns allow us to correct damage to a tooth without resorting to pulling the tooth in question out. It helps with the functioning of a weakened tooth and keeps your bite working correctly.

Can Dental Crowns be Damaged?

Yes. Dental crowns require proper care, but even then, they won’t last forever. Problems with crowns include:

  • Chips
  • Looseness
  • Falling out

In rare cases, there can be an allergic reaction to an ingredient, like a metal, used in the crown. 

If anything feels off about your crown, or it’s clearly damaged, talk to your dentist. They can confirm if you need a repair or replacement.

Your Crown Questions Answered

This blog post is a helpful guide for dental crowns, but be sure to speak to your dentist if you have questions about crowns or are curious to know which type of crown and procedure is best for you. 

Shawnessy Dental Centre is ready for your dental questions! Come visit us for a discussion about your dental health.

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