An illustration showing what a dental crown is.

1) What are dental crowns?

A crown is a type of dental restoration that fully cups over that portion of a tooth or dental implant that lies at and above the gum line.

Once placed, it in effect becomes the tooth's new outer surface. In comparison, a dental filling just fills in or repairs a portion of a tooth.

Dental crowns are permanently cemented into place. The tooth-crown unit that results is cared for and functions like any natural tooth.

2) Why are crowns placed?

There are a several different reasons why a dental crown might be made for a tooth. Dentists routinely use them to:

  1. Repair and strengthen damaged teeth.
  2. Improve the appearance of teeth (including color, shape and even apparent alignment).

(For more details, see #5 below.)

While some treatment alternatives and options do exist, no other kind of dental restoration provides the exact same set of benefits and advantages as a crown.

3) Other terms for crowns.

Dental crowns are sometimes referred to as "dental caps," "tooth caps," or "porcelain jackets."

4) What kinds of materials are dental crowns made out of?

Crowns can be made out of:

  1. Porcelain (or other type of dental ceramic.)
  2. Metal alloy (a gold or other precious, semi-precious or non-precious alloy).
  3. A combination of dental ceramic and metal alloy (porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns).

Each of the above types of crowns has its own characteristic advantages and disadvantages, and therefore its own set of most-suited applications.

We've dedicated a page to this topic. - What type of dental crown makes the best choice for you?

Need more information?

The links below lead to informational graphics, like the ones above, which cover the following topics:

5) Reasons why dental crowns are placed.

A dentist might recommend placing a crown on a tooth for a variety of reasons but, in general, most of them will fall within one (or more) of the following categories:

  1. Restoring or making changes with a tooth's shape.
  2. Reinforcing a structurally compromised tooth.
  3. Improving a tooth's appearance.

Make sure you understand why you need a crown.

A dentist's recommendation to place a crown may be based solely on their judgment, as opposed to clear-cut clinical needs. Unfortunately, the fact that crowns can be quite costly, and therefore a substantial profit center for a dental practice, has the potential to influence this diagnosis.

Just as not placing a crown when one is indicated has associated risks, crown placement opens the door for potential complications also. For this reason, this procedure should not be performed without reasonable justification. Let your dentist explain to you why they feel it is required. You may not fully understand all of their arguments (read our text below for further insight) but they should at least make some sense.

A) Restoring / changing the shape of teeth.

Since a cemented crown becomes its tooth's new outer surface, it's not too hard to understand how placing one can be used to restore or improve the shape of a tooth.

A dental crown can restore the shape of a tooth.

The advantage of a crown.

In some instances, it's conceivable that a dental filling might be placed as an alternative. A dental crown, however, offers a big advantage due to the way that it's constructed.

Crowns are fabricated in a dental laboratory (by a dental technician using molds your teeth). Dental fillings, in comparison, are built right in your mouth by way of your dentist placing the filling material directly upon your tooth.

It's easier to get the "perfect" tooth shape with a crown.

A dental laboratory technician gets the opportunity to simulate and examine aspects of your bite and jaw movements from a variety of angles, and then sculpt your dental crown so it has the ideal shape.

With a dental filling, the dentist has far less control over the restoration's final contours because it is often difficult for them to visualize, evaluate, or access to the tooth they're working on.

Why a restoration's contours are so important.

Besides just appearance, a dental restoration's shape can play a big role in maintaining proper dental health. Restorations that don't touch against neighboring or opposing teeth properly can allow tooth shifting. Weak contact with adjacent teeth can allow food to trap, which can lead to substantial risk for tooth decay and/or gum disease.

B) Strengthening teeth.

Dental crowns are routinely made for those teeth that have broken, have had large portions destroyed by tooth decay or have had root canal treatment. This is because beyond just restoring a tooth's shape, a crown can provide a reinforcing and strengthening effect too. (This is especially true for all-metal and porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns. The strength and durability characteristics of all-ceramic crowns vary, so quiz your dentist about the track record of the type they plan to place for you.)

Fillings (amalgam or dental bonding) typically can't provide a substantial reinforcing effect for a tooth to the same degree. We discuss this topic in greater detail here: How does a crown strengthen a tooth? / When does one make a better choice than a filling?

C) Using porcelain dental crowns to improve the appearance of teeth.

Because dental crowns encase the visible portion of a tooth, any type of porcelain crown (porcelain-fused-to-metal and especially all-ceramic) can be used to enhance or idealize the cosmetic appearance of a tooth.

Digital Smile Makeovers that illustrate the use of crowns.
#1   #2   #3 
#4   #5   #6   #7 

If taken to an extreme, this technique can be used to radically improve the appearance of a person's smile. In fact, in decades past it was common to hear of movie stars who had had their teeth "capped." This simply meant that they got their perfect "Hollywood" smile by way of having dental crowns placed.

A dental crown can improve the cosmetic appearance of a tooth.

Placing crowns purely for cosmetic reasons may not be the best choice.

Actually, having your teeth "capped" just to improve their appearance can, in most cases, be a very poor choice. (For example, you can't necessarily expect that a crown's perfect look will last a lifetime. Here's an explanation why.)

Dental crowns only make the best choice for making cosmetic changes in situations where they simultaneously serve other purposes, such as restoring teeth to their original shape or strengthening them.

You should always consider the alternatives.

As a general rule, a crown shouldn't be placed solely to improve the appearance of a tooth if there is some alternative procedure that could just as well achieve the same end result.

That's because some of the steps of the dental crown procedure are aggressive. For example, and as our graphic illustrates, a dentist must grind a significant portion of a tooth away as part of the process.

If a more conservative dental procedure can equally improve a tooth's appearance, such as a porcelain veneer, dental bonding, or even just teeth whitening (professional or at-home), then it is usually best to consider that treatment option first.

(Even though one of the above alternatives may only offer an improved, but not perfect, result, choosing it may offer substantial advantages over the long run. Here's a link to our page that discusses this issue from a standpoint of having veneers placed. In general, these same arguments apply to a set of crowns too.)

Other crown subjects that we cover on

Besides the pages and information we've referenced in our text above, there are a couple of other pages on that visitors frequently seek.

One involves an explanation of some of the common problems people experience with crowns (both permanent and temporary). This includes not only pains and sensitivities but also what to do if you've lost or even swallowed one.

Due to the high price of gold, people are often interested in our page that discusses how to sell scrap dental restorations. And then, as a brief overview, we've also composed a page titled: 6 things to consider when having a dental crown made.

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