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Dental Crowns 101

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” William Shakespeare wrote. Of course, he wasn’t talking about a dental crown, but for many, the procedure may also make them uneasy. We’ve taken the mystery—and uneasiness—out of dental crowns by addressing these commonly asked questions:

What is a crown?

A crown (also called a “cap”) is a permanent, protective covering that’s placed over a tooth to strengthen and protect it. It’s very different from a filling. While a filling repairs the natural tooth, a crown completely covers the surface of the tooth.

When is a crown needed?

A crown is needed when a tooth is extensively damaged by decay, misshapen, or cracked. It can also be used to support a tooth that has had a root canal pain treatment or to cover a dental implant. Dental crowns can also be used cosmetically to improve the appearance and color of a tooth.

What are dental crowns made of?

Crowns can be made of many different materials, including:

  • Metal (nickel, gold, palladium or chromium)
  • Porcelain
  • Resin
  • Other dental alloys

There are pros and cons to each type of material, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist.

What is the process for getting a crown?

First, your dentist will have to treat the underlying condition that has damaged or weakened the tooth. This may involve filling a large cavity, performing a root canal, or repairing a broken tooth. After the tooth has been treated, it must be prepared to make room for the crown. Using dental paste, the dentist takes an impression of the treated tooth and the teeth around it. This is to ensure that the crown fits and does not “offset” your bite. Sometimes, impressions are done using a digital wand to scan images of your tooth. The impression is then sent to a dental laboratory. It may take several days to three weeks for the crown to arrive. The dentist will provide a temporary crown to protect your tooth until the permanent one arrives. When the crown arrives, it is permanently put in place using dental cement.

Does a dental crown hurt?

Dentists use a local anesthetic to numb the area being treated. If you experience soreness after the crown is placed, speak with your dentist, who may suggest over-the-counter pain relievers.

How long do they last?

This varies, depending upon the wear and tear on the crown. On average, crowns last 5 to 15 years. With proper oral hygiene and preventative cleanings, many crowns have been known to last much longer.

How do I care for a crown?

Care for your crown in the same way you would care for a regular tooth. Remember, while the crown may be made of metal or porcelain, it’s still protecting part of a tooth underneath it. Good oral hygiene is necessary to prevent bacteria from accumulating along the gum line.

Will my dental insurance pay for the procedure?

This will vary depending upon your insurance. If you have concerns, speak with your dental practice’s insurance and billing associate. This employee can help you understand what your insurance will or will not pay for and establish a payment plan if your insurance will not cover the procedure.

How much does it cost?

The cost of a crown varies widely depending upon what type of material is used, the size of the tooth, the complexity of the procedure, and how extensively the tooth was damaged. A crown may cost anywhere from $600 to $2,000. Every patient’s needs are different. Speak with your dentist to obtain an estimate for a crown that suits your needs. Most importantly, if you have any questions about whether or not a crown is right for you, speak with your dentist, who can provide more specific information. To view an animated illustration of a how a dental crown is placed and a cross-section of a dental crown, visit this site.