Porcelain veneers vs. dental crowns -

What are the differences between them? | When should each be used?

When explaining the treatment details of each of our virtual smile makeovers, we often suggest that either dental crowns or porcelain veneers might be used to create the results that we've illustrated in the case's results.

And although it is true that they can both create the same cosmetic end result, these two types of restorations are very different and therefore have different applications.

What's the difference between a dental crown and porcelain veneer?

Crown vs. Veneer

Animation showing the difference between a porcelain veneer and crown.

A crown encases the entire tooth, a veneer just its front side.

A fundamental difference between veneers and crowns is how much of the tooth they cover over.

  • Crowns typically encase the entire tooth.
  • Veneers only cover over a tooth's front surface (the side that shows when the person smiles).

Details about crowns.

As another major difference (and as our graphic illustrates), crowns are much thicker than veneers. Here's the how and why in regard to that point.

Animation showing the amount of tooth trimming required for a crown.

Placing a dental crown requires a significant amount of tooth trimming.

Dental crown placement requires a significant amount of tooth trimming.

When a dentist prepares a tooth for a crown, it's reduced in size and shape to a tapered nub.

The idea is, when the crown is cemented, it becomes the new outer surface for the tooth. (That's why a crown can be used to give a tooth a new color as well as a new shape.)

How much trimming is needed?

The amount of tooth reduction that's required usually lies on the order of at least 2 millimeters (2 mm is just slightly more than one sixteenth of an inch). There can, however, be reasons why a dentist may need to trim even more in some areas.

[This measurement is based on the fact that most crowns need to be at least 2mm thick. That varies however depending on the type of materials that it's made out of (porcelain, metal or a combination of both). Generally speaking, less tooth reduction is needed for all-metal crowns.]

 
Details from dental research.

We ran across a pair of studies (Edelhoff 2002, page references) that measured how much tooth structure was removed when different types of restorations were placed.

Using that data, it's easy enough to understand how much more aggressive the act of placing a porcelain veneer is vs. a dental crown.

  • Crowns - A preparation for this type of restoration typically involves trimming away 63% to 76% of the tooth's anatomical crown (the portion of the tooth that lies above the gum line).
  • Veneers - Minimal-prep porcelain veneers may only require 3% anatomical crown reduction. More extensive preparations may involve up to 30%.
  • This data as a general comparison - Crown placement typically involves 2 to 4 times as much tooth reduction as laminates.

[The above data is for porcelain veneers (which are typically just placed on anterior (front) teeth and sometimes premolars), and all-ceramic and porcelain-metal crowns (placed on either front or back teeth).]

Little to no tooth trimming is needed when a veneer is placed.

Illustration of a porcelain veneer bonded to its tooth (side view).

How do porcelain veneers differ from dental crowns?

In comparison to crowns, porcelain veneers just cover over the front side of a tooth.

Porcelain veneers are wafer thin.

As alluded above, crowns and porcelain veneers differ by way of their comparative thickness.

  • Porcelain veneers are wafer thin, typically measuring 1 millimeter in thickness or less.
  • Dental crowns usually have a thickness of 2 millimeters or more.
Less tooth grinding is required.

This means that significantly less tooth trimming is required when veneers are placed.

Illustration of a porcelain veneer bonded on its tooth, as viewed from the tooth's biting edge.

A veneer just covers the front surface of a tooth.

  • Less reduction is needed on the tooth's front side, where the veneer is bonded.
  • No trimming is needed on the tooth's backside.
  • With some veneering techniques no tooth reduction is needed at all.

This is a very important feature of veneers. It means that, as compared to crowns, when they are place less healthy tooth structure is sacrificed. Additionally, the preparation process is less traumatic for the tooth (and possibly the patient too).

 

Comparing characteristics and applications of crowns vs. veneers.

Crowns and veneers have their own individual set of characteristics that generally make one or the other more suitable for certain applications. Here are some of the factors dentists take into consideration when determining which one makes the better choice for a patient's case.

a) Dental Crowns -

  • Can be used to produce a large color change for a tooth.
  • Can create significant shape changes for a tooth.
  • Are often used to rebuild and strengthen teeth that are badly broken or decayed.
  • Crowns are very strong and durable. They make a good choice in those situations where a tooth is exposed to heavy chewing or biting forces, or else forces created by tooth clenching and grinding (bruxism).
  • Placing a crown requires a significant amount of tooth reduction.
  • Once a crown has been placed on a tooth, it will always require one.

As you'll see in the next list, as compared to crowns which can be used to rebuild and strengthen teeth, porcelain veneers are typically used in applications that are just cosmetic in nature.

b) Porcelain Veneers -

Dental crowns vs. Porcelain veneers.

Animated graphic shows applications for crowns vs. veneers.

Crowns are stronger restorations and used to make more significant tooth changes.

  • Can be used to produce a color change for a tooth. Slight to moderate changes usually give the most life-like results.
  • Can create minor shape changes for a tooth.
  • Are placed on teeth whose underlying tooth structure is generally healthy and intact.
  • Are strong but brittle. Porcelain veneers typically do best in those situations where the forces placed upon them are relatively light or passive.
  • Require much less tooth trimming than dental crowns. Some veneering situations may require no tooth reduction at all.
  • In some special instances, porcelain veneer placement may be reversible. In most cases, however, once a veneer has been placed, the tooth will always require some type of covering. This might be another porcelain or other type of veneer, or else the tooth could be further reduced and a dental crown placed.
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c) Instances when crowns and veneers barely differ at all.

There can be times when the distinction between an all-ceramic crown and (what's referred to as a) veneer can be difficult to make at all.

What we're referring to here is the growing trend where the treating dentist has elected to aggressively trim a tooth in preparation for its veneer. Cutting more deeply into it, and on more surfaces (sides), than outlined by the original, very conservative, protocol for this procedure.

For the most part, this type of zealous trimming is a symptom of the dentist applying veneering technique to a case for which it is not best suited. This would include using veneers to "straighten" severely misaligned teeth ("instant" orthodontics) or lightening darkly stained ones. (These types of cases are frequently plagued with longevity issues.)

 

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