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What is a Dental Crown and Do I Need One?

Tom D Nolan

A dental crown is a tooth-shaped "cap" that is placed over a tooth - covering the tooth to restore its shape and size. When cemented in place, a crown fully encases the portion of a tooth that lies above the gum line. They can be used to strengthen a tooth, to improve its appearance, or both.

A crown may be needed in the following situations:

1. If a tooth has been broken or severely worn down.

2. If a filling needs to be replaced (because of decay or fracture) but there isn't a lot of sound tooth left to support a filling. In this case, a refilled tooth would be weak and likely to break.

3. To cover a misshapen or discolored tooth in a situation where a veneer or cosmetic filling would not be suitable.

4. To hold a dental bridge in place.

5. To cover an implant.

Crowns can be made from a variety of materials. Typically, the choice is between porcelain, metal, or porcelain fused to a metal sub-shell. Then, within these categories, there are several different porcelains and metals that can be used. Each material has specific characteristics in terms of strength and appearance. There is also a range of prices, with the highest grade porcelains being the most expensive and metals the cheapest. Your dentist will advise you which options are appropriate for your specific situation and why. In almost every case, there will be a number of alternatives that will give you a superb result. It is then a question of matching precisely what you want to achieve with the investment you wish to make in your oral health.

And speaking of oral health, the ultimate success of any dental procedure depends on having healthy gums before you start and maintaining a rigorous level of oral hygiene afterward.

The procedure

Following the initial assessment and planning stage, which will include x-rays to assess the roots and surrounding bone, it normally requires two visits to prepare and fit a dental crown. At the first visit, the dentist will numb your tooth and the surrounding gum before gently shaping the tooth to make room for the crown.

Then the dentist will take impressions (molds) - not only of the tooth which is being crowned but also of the teeth in the other jaw, to make sure the crown will not affect your bite. These impressions will be sent to the laboratory where the crown will be made. You will have a temporary crown to protect the tooth and restore its appearance while the permanent crown is being manufactured at the laboratory.

If you are having several crowns at the front of your mouth, you will probably be asked to see the dentist a few days after the first appointment to report on how you feel about the appearance of the temporaries.

If there are any aspects of these that you don't like, the temporaries will be adjusted until you are completely happy. The dentist will then take an impression and photographs of these which we will sent to the lab so they can see exactly how you want the finished restorations to look.

At your next visit the dentist will remove your temporary crown and check the fit and color of the permanent crown. If everything is okay, (s)he will cement it permanently in place.

For the next day or two, you may have some slight discomfort and sensitivity to hot and cold while the tooth settles down. If you experience anything more severe or if the discomfort lasts beyond a few days, you should contact your dentist.

How long do crowns last?

The life span of a crown depends on the amount of wear and tear it is exposed to and on your level of oral hygiene. Dental crowns require the same standard of care and attention as your natural teeth. If looked after properly, a high quality dental crown can last in excess of 10-15 years before it needs to be replaced.

About the Author

Dr Tom D Nolan is a dentist working in Birmingham City Centre, in the UK. He does a lot of cosmetic work and runs half marathons for charity. His immediate goal is to stop moaning about how his knees won't allow him to play football any more (apart from with his 10 year old son - and even then, the tackles are starting to feel a little heavy). In addition to dentistry, he treats people for snoring. If you would like to learn more, or if you wish to contact Tom, you can do so via: http://www.dentistintown.co.uk and http://www.dentistintown.blogspot.com.

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  • Last modified: Sat, 21 Jan 2012 18:44:11 GMT

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