Crowns can be made out of porcelain (meaning some sort of dental ceramic), metal (a gold or other metal alloy), or a combination of both. Other terms that are used to refer to dental crowns are “dental caps” and “tooth caps.”
Why do teeth need dental crowns?
A dentist might recommend placing a dental crown for a variety of reasons but, in general, most of these reasons will usually fall within one of the following basic categories:
To restore a tooth to its original shape.
To strengthen a tooth.
To improve the cosmetic appearance of a tooth.
Using dental crowns to restore a tooth’s shape and strength.
Since a dental crown that has been cemented into place essentially becomes the new outer surface for the tooth, it is easy to imagine how the placement of a crown can restore a tooth to its original shape. It’s also easy to see how a dental crown can help to strengthen a tooth by way of being a hard outer shell that encases the tooth structure that lies within it. For both of these reasons, dental crowns are routinely made for teeth that have broken, worn excessively, or else have had large portions destroyed by tooth decay.
It is conceivable that a dental filling, as an alternative, could be used as a means to restore a tooth’s shape. Dental crowns however offer Dr. Fickey a big advantage over dental fillings by way of the fact that they are fabricated “away from your mouth.” By this we simply mean that dental crowns are fabricated in a dental laboratory (by a dental technician using plaster molds your teeth). Dental fillings, in comparison, are created “in your mouth” by way of Gaylen Fickey placing the filling material directly upon your tooth.
When a dental crown is made the dental laboratory technician can visualize and examine all aspects of your bite and jaw movements, from a variety of angles, and then sculpt your dental crown so it has the perfect anatomy. In comparison, when Dr. Fickey places a dental filling they have far less control over the final outcome of the shape of your tooth because it is often difficult for them to visualize, evaluate, and access to the tooth on which they are working.
From a standpoint of strength considerations, there are some types of filling materials that can bond to tooth structure. For the most part, however, dental fillings are not considered to substantially strengthen a tooth in the same way that a dental crown, with its rigid encapsulation a tooth, can.
Using porcelain dental crowns to improve the cosmetic appearance of teeth.
Since a dental crown serves to cup over and encase the visible portion of a tooth, any dental crown that has a porcelain surface can be used as a means to idealize the cosmetic appearance of a tooth. Possibly you have heard it rumored (especially in past decades) that certain movie stars have had their teeth “capped.” This simply means that the person has obtained their “Hollywood smile” by way of having dental crowns placed.
Actually, getting your teeth “capped” just to improve their cosmetic appearance can at times be a very poor choice. Dental crowns are best utilized as a way to improve the cosmetic appearance of a tooth when the crown simultaneously serves other purposes also, such as restoring a tooth to its original shape (repairing a broken tooth) or strengthening a tooth (covering over a tooth that has a very large filling).
In general, a dental crown probably should not be used as a means to improve the appearance of a tooth if there is any other alternative dental treatment that could equally satisfactorily achieve the same cosmetic results. This is because a dentist must grind a significant portion of a tooth away when a dental crown is made. If a more conservative dental procedure could equally well improve the tooth’s appearance, such as a porcelain veneer, dental bonding, or even just teeth whitening, then it is usually best to consider that treatment option first.