Porcelain veneers vs. dental crowns -

What are the differences between them? | Applications: Comparisons of when each might be placed.

When explaining the outcomes of some of our virtual smile makeovers, we often state that either dental crowns or porcelain veneers might be used to create the same cosmetic outcome.

But although it is true that both of these types of restorations can create the same appearance for teeth, these two types of restorations are very different, and thus have different properties and therefore different applications.

What is the difference between a dental crown and porcelain veneer?

Probably the easiest way to explain the difference between these two is to give you their definitions. (We've taken the following from a dental procedures textbook.)

  • Crown - "a dental device used to cover the whole of a tooth" ...
  • Veneer - "a dental device used as a ‘false front’ to a tooth" ...


So as a start, and as our animation illustrates, a fundamental difference between a veneer and a crown is the extent of the tooth that it becomes.

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.

  • Crowns cup over and encase their entire tooth (meaning all of that portion that lies above the gum line). It becomes the tooth's new outer surface.
  • In contrast, veneers are bonded onto the front side of teeth (the side you and other people see). They literally are a veneering (thin layer of material covering over a substrate).

What are other basic differences?

While looking at our animation you probably noticed how different in size veneers and crowns are. One replaces a substantial portion of the tooth. The other is just a sliver that's attached to its front side.

And as you might expect, that means the type of functions these two kinds of restorations are intended to provide, while overlapping in some regard, are substantially different.

To complete the Hollins definitions:

  • Veneers are used ... "usually to hide discolouration or to alter the shape of a tooth."
  • Crowns are used ... "to strengthen the remaining tooth structure or to improve the aesthetics."

Section references - Hollins

So to recap their differences ...

... but this time using more of our own words:

  • Crowns cup over and encase their entire tooth, and therefore are a way of rebuilding teeth. And due to the nature of the materials that can be used in their fabrication, these restorations are frequently used to simultaneously strengthen and improve the appearance of the teeth they're placed on.
  • In contrast, veneers are a sliver of dental restorative (we discuss porcelain on this page) bonded onto the front side of a tooth solely to make a cosmetic enhancement (relatively minor shape or color improvements).

So now you know. The rest of this page discusses technical differences between the two, and best-practice applications for each.

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

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


a) Details about crowns.

Making a dental crown for a tooth requires a significant amount of tooth trimming.

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

The idea is when the crown is cemented, it becomes the tooth's new outer surface. (That's why a crown can be used to make substantial changes with both a tooth's color and shape.)

How much trimming is needed?

The amount of tooth reduction that's required usually lies on the order of around 2mm (2 millimeters is just slightly more than one-sixteenth of an inch).

  • The 2mm measurement is based on the fact that most crowns need to be at least 2mm thick.

    That's both for strength and to allow for enough porcelain thickness to give a lifelike appearance.

  • Since all-metal crowns are strong by nature, the amount of tooth trimming required for them is less (along the lines of 1.5mm).
How does that compare with veneers?

We ran across a pair of studies (Edelhoff) 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 dental crown is vs. a porcelain veneer. (We'll discuss the importance of this issue later on this page.)

  • 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 (veneers).

That difference hints to why placing dental crowns on front teeth just to make a cosmetic improvement can make an exceedingly poor choice.

Section references - Edelhoff

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

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

b) How porcelain veneers differ from dental crowns.

Porcelain veneers are wafer-thin.

As you might have guessed from the tooth reduction figures above, crowns and porcelain veneers (typically) differ by way of their comparative thickness.

  • Porcelain veneers are wafer-thin, with a thickness measurement usually around 1 millimeter 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.
  • Possibly no trimming is needed on the tooth's backside. If any is, it should be just minimal.
  • With some veneering techniques, no tooth reduction is needed at all.

Why is that significant?

This is a very important feature of veneers. It means that as compared to crowns, when they are placed less healthy tooth structure is sacrificed.

  • Philosophically, conserving natural tooth structure is the right thing to do. It alters your tooth as minimally as possible.
  • Less trimming allows for a quicker, easier, more enjoyable placement process. (Compare: Porcelain veneer placement vs. crown.)
  • Preserving tooth structure allows you more options later in life when your restorations need to be replaced. (Compare longevity statistics: Crowns vs. Porcelain Veneers)
  • The preparation process is less traumatic for your tooth, thus helping to avoid complications sometimes associated with crown placement.

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.
  • Can be used to improve the apparent alignment of teeth.
  • 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 that 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 or cover over surface irregularities.
  • Can be used to improve the apparent alignment of teeth. (Instant orthodontics.)
  • Are placed on teeth whose underlying tooth structure is generally healthy and intact. Possibly can serve as a replacement for aged white fillings.
  • Require much less tooth trimming than dental crowns. Some veneering situations may require no tooth reduction at all.
  • Are strong but brittle. Porcelain veneers typically do best in those situations where the forces placed upon them are relatively light or passive.
  • 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.

Section references - Sonis


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.)