While bacteria are always present in the mouth, one of the main functions of oral hygiene is to reduce the number of harmful bacteria that could cause infection or decay, especially to a previously damaged tooth. When teeth and gums are healthy and whole, the amount of harm the bacteria can do is limited because of the tough outer layer, called the enamel, that protects the tooth. If a tooth is cracked, chipped, or has a cavity, bacteria now have an entry point into the tooth.
There are multiple ways to treat teeth so that bacteria, as well as food and sugars, do not creep in and cause more decay or infection. In a cavity situation, a filling is usually put into the depression once it is cleaned thoroughly by a dentist. If the cavity is large, there may not be enough remaining tooth for the filling to adhere to properly. A long-lasting tooth restoration that essentially replaces the protective enamel layer that the tooth lost when cracked or decayed is a crown that will cover the damaged tooth. Once the cavity is cleaned, the crown, or cap, can be placed over the tooth to seal out any bacteria or food debris from getting inside the cavity.
Why Is There a Need for A Crown?
Crowns serve as a layer of protection around a tooth that is cracked, decayed, or can even be used to hide deeply stained or misshapen teeth. Because the crown fits around the entire tooth, completely encasing it, it is much like having a brand new tooth on the outside, while the root and some remaining parts of the original tooth are inside. If a tooth is severely cracked, a crown will keep it together and prevent the crack from becoming painfully worse with every chew. A crown can even be placed over a tooth that has had a root canal, which is when the root of a tooth has become infected from a deep cavity or a crack, and it must be cleaned out and any infected pulp is removed in order to save the tooth. A crown can be made of a number of different materials, varying in strength which classifies them as either a temporary or permanent crown. The types of material include:
- Porcelain, or ceramic
When choosing what kind of crown you prefer, listen to your dentist’s recommendations and take several things into consideration before making your choice. With every crown, there are advantages and drawbacks so knowing your options is important. When preparing your tooth to be fitted with a crown, your dentist will remove parts of the tooth to allow for a firm fit. Depending on the strength of the crown material used, the amount of tooth removed will vary accordingly, allowing a weaker material to be thicker to provide a similar strength when compared to a more durable material. For stronger materials like gold or stainless steel, the crown can be thinner, giving more room for the original tooth to remain.
Crown Materials Advantages and Disadvantages
Metal crowns can be made out of gold, stainless steel, or platinum alloys and are the strongest materials used to make crowns. Though these crowns are very strong and durable, they are not aesthetically pleasing and can also cause an allergic reaction in some patients.
Porcelain is a type of ceramic material that is often used in dental work, including crowns. A crown that is made of this translucent, pearly material will look very natural in your mouth and will be difficult to spot. But a pure ceramic crown will not have the strength of a metal crown. More of the tooth will have to be removed to allow for a thicker ceramic layer so that it will not easily break. It is possible that the ceramic or porcelain crown will more quickly wear down surrounding teeth. They are also more expensive than some metal crowns. A crown that is metal inside fused with an outer layer made of porcelain can provide the best of both worlds so that you are left with a durable crown that looks as natural as your original tooth.
Composite resin or acrylic crowns are made out of a softer, impressionable material that can be fitted around the tooth for a comfortable fit before it hardens. It is made to be temporary but it will also be tough enough to withstand bite pressure so it shouldn’t crack during its expected lifespan of which it was intended.
Why Would You Need a Temporary Crown?
A temporary crown serves a similar purpose as a bandage to a skin wound. Once the wound, or in a dental situation, a cavity, is cleaned and treated, a layer of protection is placed over it to keep bacteria out while the healing process takes place. Because a tooth will not heal from a cavity like a cut on your arm will, the temporary crown will cover and seal the damaged tooth and protect it from infection while waiting for a more permanent solution.
Why do you need a temporary crown before a permanent crown? Temporary crowns are made of a material that is not built to last. Some temporary crowns are made from stronger materials like stainless steel but are premade in a one size fits all form and may not feel perfectly natural in your mouth. They are temporary because they can be made quickly or are readily available so that your tooth can be protected in the interim period while you wait for a custom fit, permanent crown to be created and then placed over your tooth. Visually, you can easily see the difference between what a temporary stainless steel crown looks like compared to a permanent crown made of the same material.
Are temporary crowns more sensitive than permanent crowns?
Because of the more extensive dental work needed in placing a crown, you may experience sensitivity either from the filed down tooth or from other surrounding teeth and gums. Temporary crowns may not fit perfectly, and this could cause the opposite tooth to become sensitive from not mating together correctly when you clench your teeth or chew. Some sensitivity and discomfort are expected when either type of crown is placed, but it should be manageable and go away on its own.
How Long Do Temporary Crowns Last?
As the name implies, a temporary crown is made to last only a short time. Usually, the intended time for a temporary crown to remain in your mouth is only a few weeks. The basic purpose of a temporary crown is to protect the tooth while you wait for a stronger, more custom fit, permanent crown to be made. Even the adhesive used to place the temporary crown is made of a more temporary material so it will be easy to remove the crown when it is time to replace it with a more permanent material.
Why Would you Need a Permanent Crown?
Because a temporary crown is not made to stand the test of time, a permanent crown will soon need to replace the temporary fix. Before you were fitted with a temporary crown, your dentist would have taken an impression of your top and bottom teeth, including the damaged tooth receiving the crown. The damaged tooth is then shaped with a tool using a tapered tip that removes parts of the tooth so that the crown can fit nicely around what remains. This procedure is nonreversible. You will always need a crown to cover the remaining parts of the tooth to seal out bacteria and provide a chewing surface when eating.
Do permanent crowns feel better than temporary crowns?
Because top and bottom teeth fit together when chewing, the outside and, especially, top of the crown must be made with its opposite tooth in mind. All the unique grooves and cusps of the teeth must comfortably fit together when you close your teeth. This custom fit makes permanent crowns feel much more comfortable and natural than temporary crowns.
With dental technologies ever introducing new and improved ways of caring for teeth, a partial crown, also referred to as an onlay, can even be placed on the damaged tooth, making the procedure less invasive and leaving more of the original tooth intact. When you have a damaged tooth in need of restoration, a crown is an excellent way to protect the tooth from harmful bacteria and further decay while providing a strong layer that can withstand bite pressure and function as if the tooth was never damaged in the first place. If you are in need of a crown for a damaged or decaying tooth, check out Smile Generation’s Find a Dentist tool to get in touch with a local, experienced dentist in your community.
"Crowns." Mouth Healthy, 3 May 2022, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/crowns
“Crown Preparation.” PDS, 2019, https://pds-preview-staging.herokuapp.com/video?id=25
“Material Options for Crowns and Onlays.” PDS, 2019, https://pds-preview-staging.herokuapp.com/video?id=23
“Onlays.” PDS, 2019, https://pds-preview-staging.herokuapp.com/video?id=327
"Root Canals: FAQs About Treatment That Can Save Your Tooth." Mouth Healthy, 4 May 2022, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals
Smile Generation, 3 May 2022, https://www.smilegeneration.com/dental-office-search/
"The Facts about Filling." 2022. PDF File. https://www.dbc.ca.gov/formspubs/pub_dmfs_english_webview.pdf