Dental Health Matters: Crowns

Dr. Matthew Larsen; DMD; Yellowstone Family Dental

It’s the feeling everyone dreads… biting into your favorite food and SNAP! There goes a chunk of your tooth. Now what? It’s a question many patients have when they schedule an appointment after a tooth breaks. While each situation is different, a doctors’ goal is always the same – to save your natural tooth and root structure whenever possible.


What is a crown? The American Dental Association describes a crown as “a cover or ‘cap’ your dentist can put on a tooth. The crown restores the tooth to its normal shape, size and function”. When a dentist makes a crown for you, they take an impression of your natural tooth and model the crown to be the same shape, size and color as your natural tooth. Ideally, after the permanent crown is placed, you and anyone who looks at your smile will not be able to tell that you have had a crown done. The function of your tooth should also return to normal after a crown is placed so that biting and chewing are not impacted.


Why do I need a crown? There are several reasons the doctor would recommend a crown for you: if you have a cavity that is too large for a filling; if you have a tooth that is broken, worn down or cracked; if you have had a root canal, the tooth may need a crown to be adequately protected; or if you want to cover a discolored or badly shaped tooth to improve the appearance of your smile.


What can I expect when I have a crown done? A typical crown appointment lasts up to two hours. During this time, the doctor will prepare the tooth for the crown by removing the outer portion so that the crown can fit on top. Any decay on the tooth will be removed and if necessary, the center of the tooth is built-up to create a solid foundation to support the crown. Finally, an impression is made to insure that the shape of the crown will mimic your natural tooth. This part of the process usually takes about an hour.


Traditionally, the impressions need to be sent to a dental lab where the crown is fabricated using a material or combination of materials chosen by you and your doctor. The fabrication process can take several weeks during which time the doctor will fit you with a temporary crown to cover your tooth until the permanent crown can be placed. Because of the need for a return visit, crowns are often viewed as costly, time consuming procedures.


But a relatively new technology, known as a CEREC™ technology, allows doctors to scan a digital image of your tooth into a computer program where the doctor can make any necessary adjustments to the design of the crown. The specifications are then sent to a machine in their own office that mills the crown from a block of ceramic. The doctor then adds finishing touches by painting, polishing and glazing the crown before permanently cementing it to the prepared tooth. With a CEREC™ crown, the entire appointment is just two hours long with no need for a return appointment to cement the permanent crown!

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