What is a Dental Crown?
And Do You Really Need One?

What is a Dental crown? And more importantly, why is the cost so high?

When is a dental crown needed?

And... is there an alternative?

Good questions if your dentist has just recommended this procedure...

A dental crown is a restoration that covers, protects and strengthens the entire tooth.

Crowns also known as caps can be made by a dental lab or by your dentist.  If made by a dental lab your dentist pays a lab fee and that increases your cost.  If they are made by a dentist, expensive (but really cool) technology called Cerec is used to design and make your crown while you wait.  The cost of the really cool technology impacts the cost of a crown.

Crowns can be tooth colored or gold. Temporary or permanent.  


These are scenarios that require a dental crown...

  • Cracked tooth Dental enamel is the hardest material in your body making it prone to cracking after years of wear and under certain circumstances.   Once a large filling is placed the enamel becomes weaker and more brittle and over time can develop micro (or not so micro) cracks.  Though not as common, cracks can occur in teeth without fillings too.


  • Large cavity If a large part of the tooth is decayed and has to be removed and there is not enough healthy tooth structure left to support a filling, a crown is needed.


  • Large filling Large fillings that involve more than half the tooth are much more likely to need a crown at some point.


  • Broken tooth If you have a large piece of tooth that has chipped or broken, you may need a dental crown. Small chips can usually be repaired with a filling.


  • Molars and premolars that have had root canals Once a molar or premolar has  a root canal, it becomes more brittle and is more prone to breaking.  A crown adds strength and prevents fractures.


Since the cost of a dental crown is significant, you may want to consider one of these dental crown alternatives...

dental filling may be an option. Your dentist may agree to repair your tooth with a filling instead of a crown. Very large fillings are not likely to last as long as a dental crown but can be done in some cases.  It never hurts to ask.


Dental onlay ~ A dental onlay is a compromise between a crown and a filling it is stronger than a filling and preserves more of your tooth structure. It is a more conservative choice and a good option.

Unfortunately onlays are almost as expensive as crowns.


Do nothing ~ This is my least favorite option because I hate to see teeth neglected. If finances or other circumstances make dental treatment difficult and, if there is no decay, pain or sensitivity doing nothing is always an option.

There are a few risks with this option...the tooth could break again and need more treatment or become untreatable.

Because teeth move when they are not fully functioning, it could drift out of position and become less useful and more prone to gum disease or tooth decay.


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