Dental Crowns (Dental Caps)

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What is a dental crown?

The anatomy of a tooth can be divided into two basic parts -- the root and the crown. In a person with healthy gums and bone, the root of the tooth is covered by the gums and bone. The part of the tooth that is visible in the mouth, above the gum line on lower teeth and below the gum line on upper teeth, is called the clinical crown. A cemented restoration that partially or completely covers the outside of the clinical crown is referred to as a dental crown or cap.

Other relevant terms

Crown preparation: This is the design of the tooth after it has been shaved down to allow room for a crown. The preparation design depends on the material that the crown will be made from, previous fillings, fractures, and root canal therapy performed on the tooth while trying to maintain enough tooth structure for the crown to adhere onto.

Margin: This is the edge of the crown that meets the prepared surface of the tooth. This needs to be smooth with no gaps or ledges.

Cusps: These are the raised or pointy parts of a crown that are the primary tools for tearing and chewing food. When a cusp has been damaged from a cavity or fracture, the tooth needs a crown to prevent further damage.

Partial crown/onlay: This is a crown that only covers some of the cusps of the tooth, but not all of them. This restoration is chosen as a conservative measure to preserve as much tooth structure as possible. When conditions allow, this is the preferred type of crown restoration.

Dental veneer: Porcelain veneers are partial crowns that cover only the front and biting edge of teeth. These all-ceramic restorations are usually placed on front teeth to change the color or shape of teeth or add symmetry and balance to a smile. Since they are sometimes placed on crooked teeth, treatment with veneers has sometimes been referred to as "instant orthodontics."

Temporary/provisional: This is a temporary crown that is placed on the tooth while waiting for the final crown to be made by the dental lab. Temporary crowns shouldn't be left on a tooth for very long because they are made of weak materials and cemented with weak cement that doesn't seal the tooth for very long. Occasionally, a temporary crown will purposely be left on for a prolonged period of time by the dentist to make sure it becomes free of pain or other symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/2/2014

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