What the heck is a dental crown, and do I really need it?

You just visited your dental office for a cleaning and exam. Your teeth felt fine going in, but your dentist just told you that one of your teeth needs a crown. What now?

Crowns & Broken or Decayed Teeth

In most cases, a tooth needs a crown when the decayed or broken portion is salvageable, but too large for a filling to predictably last. The crown is normally made from tooth colored ceramic, covers the visible area of the entire tooth, or, covers only the problem area.

In addition to repairing large or deep areas of decay and missing portions of teeth, crowns are also used to control fractures, correct bite and alignment problems, and improve esthetics.

When Will I Need a Crown?

Dentists sometimes disagree about when a crown is needed. Because dental treatment can be very subjective, it’s normal for dentists to have different but valid opinions about how to fix the same problem.

For example, a fracture running through a molar might not have symptoms, yet. But many dentists know that a fracture could split later and cause you to lose your tooth. What we don’t know, because x-rays normally don’t show us, is how deep the fracture is.

Looking at other clues, we have to decide whether a less expensive filling would work, be a temporary fix, or just make things worse.

For example, if you chew ice, experience tells us a crown might be the best solution because of its added strength. These are judgment calls you and your dentist will decide upon together.

Dental Crown Options

There are different types of crowns you and your dentist can choose from, depending on your budget and the condition of your teeth.

  • Partial Crown: If only a portion of a tooth is to be covered, a “partial” crown made from tooth-colored ceramic or metal, such as gold, can be used.
  • Full Crown: If the entire tooth is to be covered by a “full” crown, the choices are broader, including different types of tooth-colored ceramic, ceramic covered metal, or 100% gold or silver metal.

As you discuss the options with your dentist, you may want to consider if your teeth need whitening or if you would like to correct other areas near your new crown.

Your dentist might point out, for example, that if an adjacent misshapen filling is not managed it will cause your new crown to also be misshapen. Your dentist can identify other potential improvements, explain your options, and help you reach the right decision.

Don’t Forget to Ask Your Dentist

Fortunately, when you need more than a cleaning, most dentists are trustworthy and only want what is best for you. They will take the time to make sure you are well informed and your questions have all been thoroughly answered, including anticipated costs, insurance, and required appointments.

It should be the kind of experience that makes you feel good about your visit and want to refer others. You might want to reconsider, however, if you feel rushed or pressured, or that a non dentist is making your treatment decisions.

Also make sure the dentist is the one adjusting and permanently placing your new crown, two functions dental assistants are not legally allowed to perform.

So, Do I really Need a Crown?

When your dentist says you need a crown, you probably do, even if the tooth doesn’t hurt. Ask your dentist to explain their findings and all your options, including fillings. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the procedures and finances, and that you haven’t been rushed or pressured.

If you have any additional questions or concerns head on over to review our section on crowns, and make sure you read our members’ Code of Ethics. These are great first steps in making sure you find a dentist you can trust, and receive the quality care you deserve.


2 thoughts on “What the heck is a dental crown, and do I really need it?”

  1. This is a great article about dental crowns and when they are needed. Last time we went to see our dentist, he told my wife that she needs to get a crown. My initial reaction was that she hasn’t been in any pain, so does she really need a crown? I think in my wife’s case, it is because of a cavity filling that didn’t work properly. Either way, we are going to ask our dentist to explain exactly why she needs it so that we can understand. Thanks for explaining the basics!

  2. My wife had a root canal performed recently, and she needs to have a crown. We were just wondering how essential a crown actually is. This article helped a lot, and I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry when the the dentist says that you really need one. Thanks for sharing this post with me, as this has helped a lot.

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