The enamel in teeth is one of the most enduring substances in our bodies, often outlasting bone. Unfortunately, we only get one set of teeth to use throughout our entire adulthood, and they take a lot of pummeling. Whether through decay, surgery, or physical misfortune, few people make it through early adulthood with all of their teeth intact. We are each allotted 32 permanent teeth, including wisdom teeth, but according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, adults between the ages of 20 and 34 years old retained an average of approximately 26.9 teeth.
The shifting hormones and symptoms of menopause and perimenopause are particularly hard on the teeth. Dry mouth, a common symptom of menopause, increases the possibility of developing cavities and gum disease. Osteoporosis can affect the bones of the jaw, weakening teeth, and conditions like burning mouth syndrome and bleeding gums can make brushing and flossing uncomfortable. The mean for those between 50 and 64, the oldest sample in the group, was just 22.3 permanent teeth.
Dental Cap vs. Crown
When a tooth is severely damaged, a dentist needs to repair it. This often involves covering all or part of the tooth with a proxy. A stand-in is also required as a temporary measure when an extracted tooth is replaced with a dental implant. Some people refer to having a dental cap as a replacement, while others stated they had a crown on their tooth, and you may have wondered about the difference between the two.
As it turns out, there isn’t one. The terms dental cap and crown can be used interchangeably.
There are several reasons dentists recommend covering and protecting your tooth with a dental cap, including to:
- Anchor a dental bridge
- Complete and cover a dental implant
- Cover a root canal
- Cover severely discolored teeth
- Reshape misshapen teeth
- Restore a broken or worn tooth
- Strengthen weak or cracked teeth
- Support a large filling
Another option to help correct discolored, chipped, or misshapen teeth is to use porcelain veneers. A veneer is a thin ceramic or porcelain layer that is bonded to the surface of the original tooth. This is often preferred for teeth that are mostly intact, as less of the original enamel is damaged than when placing a crown. A veneer is not usually an option for severely damaged teeth, it can’t be used to anchor a dental bridge, nor can it complete a dental implant.
Types of Crowns
Although some dentist offices can make a permanent crown the same day as your appointment, most send molds of your teeth to a laboratory dedicated to creating crowns, bridges, and orthodontic devices. A temporary crown, made of either plastics or stainless steel, is typically fitted to the tooth with temporary dental cement that is fairly easy to remove. The dentist then replaces the temporary crown with the permanent one at the second appointment.
When someone says they have a crown or dental cap, the first type of crown that comes to mind is a full-coverage cap that covers the entire tooth. Teeth that are only partially damaged or weakened may benefit from either a 3/4 crown or an onlay instead. A 3/4 crown is exactly what it sounds like, a crown that covers 3/4 of the underlying tooth but leaves around a quarter of the original tooth intact. An onlay is an even smaller version of a crown, usually covering just one cusp of the prepared tooth.
A similar dental term is inlay. This term refers to the process of protecting a tooth with an extremely large cavity. It is similar to a dental filling in that it fills the hole, but instead of using the usual filling material, a single, solid piece of porcelain, gold, or lithium disilicate, is custom-designed to fit into the cavity.
Any of these types of crown, except the temporary crown, can be made out of a variety of materials, including gold alloy, porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, lithium disilicate, or zirconia.
Gold alloy is frequently used as a material for a permanent dental crown. It is both durable and strong, so teeth made with gold alloy are less likely to chip or break than other materials. The gold alloy is also a relatively soft metal, and despite its strength, it’s less likely to fracture or wear down adjacent teeth. However, it does not blend in with surrounding teeth, so gold crowns are most frequently used to cover back teeth.
Porcelain fused to metal
Fusing the porcelain to metal may not look quite as natural as all-porcelain teeth, but they are much more durable. While the metal framework is less likely to break, the porcelain on the outside may chip, exposing the metal core.
*Both gold alloy and porcelain fused to metal crowns are more likely to trigger allergic responses than the other crowns because of metal allergies.
Porcelain crowns, also referred to as ceramic dental crowns, have a more natural look than gold alloy but are somewhat prone to chipping and can aggravate adjacent teeth. For these reasons, crowns made entirely of porcelain are usually reserved for front teeth.
e-max (Lithium Disilicate)—A lighter, thinner version of the porcelain crown that can more closely match the look of your other teeth. They are relatively weak compared to the other options.
Zirconia—The zirconium oxide used to make zirconia dental caps is a newer option than the other materials. It is durable, more in line with metal fillings, but less likely to provoke an allergic reaction than metal options. It is difficult to color match zirconia crowns, so some dentists layer porcelain over the zirconia crown.
Caring for your crown
Most crowns will last around ten to fifteen years, providing they receive proper dental care. Crowns should be cared for in much the same way as your natural teeth. Individuals with dental caps should continue brushing their teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Without good dental hygiene, gum disease and decay are likely to develop around the base of the restored tooth. This can erode nearby teeth or result in dental infections and bad breath.
Getting a cavity, chipping a tooth, or developing micro-fractures doesn’t have to be a devastating experience. Modern dental medicine offers many different types of crowns to help protect and beautify your stunning smile!