Dental Crowns (Dental Caps)

  • Medical Author:
    Steven B. Horne, DDS

    Dr. Steve Horne began his career at Brigham Young University obtaining his BA in English. He earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery in 2007 from the University of Southern California where his pursuit for academic excellence landed him on the Dean's List. He was recognized for his superior clinical skills and invited to help teach other dental students in courses on restorative dentistry, prosthodontics, and tooth anatomy. During dental school, he provided dental care for underserved populations of Los Angeles and Orange County, Mexico, and Costa Rica with AYUDA. Following dental school, Dr. Horne entered active duty with the U.S. Army and practiced dentistry at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for four years. During this time, he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and received multiple Army Achievement Medals, the Army Commendation Medal, and served as Company Commander. Dr. Horne currently practices full time at Torrey Pines Dental Arts in La Jolla, California, as a general dentist. Dr. Horne is a member of the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Horne is married to his wife, Christy, and they have a chocolate Labrador named Roscoe.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Shocking Diseases of the Mouth

Quick GuideCosmetic Dentistry Before and After Photos

Cosmetic Dentistry Before and After Photos

When is a dental crown needed?

There are a variety of situations that require a tooth to be restored with a dental crown. The following are the most common:

Large filling: When a tooth has a cavity or fracture that involves half the width of the tooth or more, it needs to be covered with a crown. This is because the remaining tooth around the large filling is so weak that it is prone to fracture. Sometimes a large filling that has been in the mouth for a while will need to be replaced with a crown because the tooth shows signs of stress and cracks around the filling.

Root canal: Root canal treatment leaves the tooth hollowed out and predisposes the remaining tooth to cracking. So, a tooth that has had a root canal almost always needs to be restored with a crown immediately to prevent it from fracturing.

Cracked tooth syndrome: This is a condition whereby a patient has fractures inside a tooth that cause pain when it is chewed on a certain way. Chewing produces stress on fracture lines that make it feel like it is splitting apart. A crown will hold the tooth together and redistribute the stress evenly throughout the tooth, eliminating the pain in most instances. In these situations, it is best to leave a temporary crown on for a while to make sure the pain goes away and the tooth doesn't require a root canal.

Broken cusps: Cusps frequently break off of teeth due to trauma or large existing fillings. Since the cusps are the part of the tooth that take the most stress during chewing, they need to be completely covered or the tooth or filling will keep fracturing. Sometimes the tooth breaks all the way to the bone, and a crown-lengthening procedure is necessary. This means the bone and gums need to be trimmed down below the edge of the fractured part of the tooth so the margin of the crown can be placed on healthy, strong tooth structure.

Excessive wear of teeth: If a person has a habit of grinding their teeth, the teeth will become shorter over time. The teeth can also wear away due to acid erosion caused by gastrointestinal acid reflux (GERD), bulimia, or an acidic diet. Sometimes, the enamel will wear away completely, leaving small, soft teeth. Over time, the bite can collapse and the only way of restoring the teeth properly is by increasing the bite and covering the teeth with crowns.

Undesirable appearance of teeth: Teeth that have an unacceptable appearance due to color, shape, or spaces between teeth can be made to look very natural and beautiful with crowns. Dental veneers are a very effective and conservative way of enhancing the look of the front teeth. They can be made to look very natural, and sometimes they don't even require preparing or shaving the existing teeth.

Other: Crowns are placed on dental implants to restore spaces left from missing teeth. Another way of filling these spaces is with dental bridges, which are made from crowns on the teeth next to the spaces attached to fake teeth in the middle. If teeth are loose, crowns can be placed on multiple teeth and splinted together to provide more stability.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2016

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