You’ve been diligent about caring for your teeth throughout your life. You have a few older fillings in your mouth, but overall your teeth are in good shape. On most trips to the dentist for cleanings and checkups, your dentist declares that you don’t need any restorative dental treatments.
But you have an unpleasant surprise one night while eating dinner. You feel a hole in one of your molars, and you soon realize a filling has broken. You call your dentist and set up an emergency appointment.
In scenarios like the one above, patients often expect to receive a replacement filling. However, sometimes dentists recommend a crown instead. This blog discusses both options and covers why crowns are often a more effective restorative option than fillings.
When Fillings Work Best
Dentists recommend fillings for people who have cavities. Fillings help prevent further tooth decay in the cavity. A dentist places a filling by removing the decayed part and putting a durable material into the open space in the tooth. The dentist finishes the tooth by making sure the filled tooth’s new shape fits comfortably with the nearby teeth.
Cavities can be fairly small, but some cavities are much larger than others. Fillings treat small cavities more effectively than large cavities because the dentist can remove less of the natural tooth. A tooth’s structure stays stronger overall when more of the natural tooth remains.
Over time, teeth with fillings can become vulnerable to new decay. The area where the filling meets the natural tooth sometimes wears down, which allows new bacteria to delve into the tooth and cause cavities. Sometimes that decay causes the filling to fall out. Or if the original filling was large, parts of the tooth may break off because they are not firmly attached to the rest of the natural tooth.
When Crowns Work Best
Dentists recommend crowns in several situations. They might suggest a crown when a tooth’s first signs of decay are extensive. In that case, a large filling may not last as long as a crown, so a crown acts as a better long-term restorative treatment.
Similarly, a crown may be your best option if your natural tooth cracked or broke. The crown covers the remaining structure of the original tooth, which protects the tooth from breaking further. The crown also looks and feels like a regular tooth.
Dentists may also recommend crowns if a filling falls out. If the tooth’s new cavity is quite large, a
crown forms a stronger structure than a filling would. The crown covers the remaining natural tooth and reinforces it. With a crown, the natural tooth is no longer at risk for additional breakage because it’s not exposed anymore.
Crowns also have a few specialized uses related to other dental treatments. They can serve as the cap for a dental implant or an anchor for a dental bridge.
What Crown Options You Have
Dentists can place crowns made from many materials, including metal, resin, ceramic, porcelain, or combinations of these substances. Dentists select a material that offers the tooth adequate protection but still looks as natural as possible.
In some cases, placing a crown might require at least two appointments. During the first appointment, the dentist performs initial restorative work to the existing tooth. That work may involve placing a small filling and filing down the tooth to prepare it for the crown.
Next, the dentist takes a mold of the tooth and places a temporary cap over the tooth. The temporary cap lasts a few weeks, but it isn’t strong enough to withstand long-term use.
Between the two appointments, the dentist sends the mold of the tooth to a lab, where technicians manufacture a permanent crown. They send the completed crown to your dentist, who places it over your tooth at the second appointment.
However, new technology allows dentists to create permanent crowns in their offices. If your dental office has this technology, you can have a crown placed in a single appointment instead of in two separate office visits.
How Same-Day Crowns Work
Same-day crowns rely on computer imaging and manufacturing technology. First, your dentist performs any necessary prep work on your tooth, such as filing it into the correct shape.
Then the dentist uses a camera-equipped wand to take images of your tooth. The images feed into a computer that generates a 3D model of the tooth. The camera also takes pictures of surrounding teeth so the new crown will fit comfortably into your mouth.
When the 3D model is complete, the dentist sends the design to a crown-milling machine at the office. The machine creates your crown out of ceramic while you wait. On average, the machine needs about 15 minutes to build your crown. Then the dentist simply glues it in place.
Next time you need a filling or a crown, consult with your dentist. Most dentists are happy to explain why a recommended treatment works best for your situation. And if you need a crown, ask if your office offers same-day crowns. Remember to take care of your teeth!