Which Dental Crown or Tooth Cap is Right for You? Learn More Here.

Which Dental Crown or Tooth Cap is Right for You? Learn More Here.

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Modified:  13 October 2018

If you’re looking for information about dental crown costs, types, and procedures, you’re in the right place. Maybe you need a tooth crown to restore a damaged tooth. Or perhaps you want to improve the aesthetics of your smile without invasive implant surgery. Whatever the reason, you’re bound to have some questions about getting caps on your teeth.

In this comprehensive guide we’ll cover the pros and cons of different types of crown. You’ll find out what to expect when you visit the dentist for the procedure, and how much dental crowns cost in the UK.

We’ll also explain how to care for your crowns to make them last as long as possible (which could be 25 years or more).

What is a dental crown?

teeth in need of crowns

Dental caps can help recover chipped, cracked and decayed teeth

A crown is a tooth-shaped covering that completely encases the visible part of the tooth.

There are a number of reasons why someone may have a crown fitted:

Crowns can be made from a variety of different materials. Some are metal-coloured, while some are designed to look like natural teeth. We’ll cover these in more detail later on.

Before dental technology evolved to allow for the dental crown procedure, the only way to deal with a damaged or heavily decayed tooth was to remove it. Thanks to teeth crowns, dentists now have a way to save much of the tooth structure and avoid the discomfort of an extraction.

Unlike a filling, which repairs just a portion of the tooth, a crown restores the whole tooth. Capped teeth should function and feel just like a natural tooth.

What’s the difference between a tooth crown and a tooth cap?

capping a tooth

A tooth cap is applied after the tooth has been drilled to a certain shape

You might have heard the terms ‘crown’ and ‘cap’ used and are wondering what the difference is. In actual fact, they are both names for the same thing.

‘Dental cap’ is a less technical term for ‘dental crown’, but they both refer to a whole tooth covering placed on top of a shaved-down tooth. Some people might say that a ‘crown’ is metal-coloured while a ‘cap’ is tooth-coloured, but this is not a differentiation that dentists make.

We’ll use both terms interchangeably in this article, but now you know that they both refer to the same thing.

What is a tooth crown made from?

The most common materials for teeth caps are:

  • A dental ceramic such as porcelain or zirconia, coloured to match the surrounding teeth
  • Metal alloys (including gold, platinum, palladium, and non-precious metals) – either “white” (silver-coloured) or “yellow” (gold-coloured)
  • A combination of the above, with ceramic fused to an inner metal crown (known as porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM crowns)
tooth cap gold

Gold tooth crowns are not actually pure gold

In addition, if you have a temporary crown fitted while your permanent crown is being made, this is likely to be an acrylic or composite material.

Note that gold crowns are never pure gold; the metal in its pure form would be far too soft to do the job well. Instead, gold is combined with other metals to create a much stronger gold alloy. The actual gold content may be anywhere between 20% and 77%.

Of course, with gold being a precious metal, gold dental crowns are more expensive than those made from non-precious metal alloys. These often contain nickel, cobalt and chronium, and are silver-coloured.

Choosing the right material

Each of the materials has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so the right crown material for you will depend on which teeth are being capped, how you want them to look aesthetically, and how long you need them to last.

tooth shade chart

Ceramic crowns are made to match your natural teeth

Ceramic crowns are crafted in a lab and built up layer by layer. This gives them the same slightly translucent appearance of natural teeth and makes them a popular choice for front teeth that will be on show.

The downside of any ceramic material is that, although it is very strong, it is more brittle than metal and liable to crack or chip.

Gold dental crowns and those made from other alloy metals tend to be much more durable. They have the added benefit of being biocompatible with teeth, which means the capped teeth shouldn’t cause any damage or wear to the teeth they bite against.

The obvious drawback of any metal crown is the colour. Many people simply don’t want a gold- or silver-coloured tooth on show, even if it is tucked away at the back.

For others, having a gold tooth crown is quite appealing and they may go as far as to have it engraved or studded with gemstones!

porcelain fused to metal crowns

The metal part of PFM crowns is hidden below the gums and the porcelain coating

PFM crowns offer some of the strength of metal with the aesthetics of porcelain crowns. However, they don’t usually look quite like natural teeth because of the way they are layered. It’s still possible for the ceramic coating to chip or crack, but the metal underneath will remain intact.

How much does a tooth crown cost?

As with any dental treatment, tooth cap prices vary greatly from one place to another and from one dental clinic to the next. It’s worth shopping around and comparing prices between dentists near you, especially if you need to get more than one of your teeth crowned.

There is also more to consider than just the cost of a tooth cap; as discussed above, there are pros and cons to each type of crown. In addition to asking your dentist about dental crown costs, enquire about the different options that may be suitable for you.

As you can see from the table below, full metal crowns are generally the least expensive, and full ceramic the most expensive. Front tooth crowns can be more costly as more time needs to be put into giving them a natural look.

Type of crown Metal crown Ceramic (porcelain) crown Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crown One-day CEREC crown
Cost £250 - £600 £350 - £950 £300 - £850 £385 - £800
Strength/durability Excellent; very long-lasting The least durable material; liable to crack or chip Although the metal inside is strong, the outer porcelain can chip Can chip just like porcelain
Aesthetics Gold or silver-coloured so easily noticeable Created to look just like natural teeth Tooth-coloured but doesn't always have the translucency of natural teeth The fast production process makes it harder to achieve a natural look
Other comments Won't wear down other teeth Can gradually wear away other teeth it bites against May gradually wear away other teeth it bites against Can gradually wear away other teeth it bites against
Prices may not include the cost of other treatment, for example fillings and root canals. Check full prices with your dentist.

If you need more than one, your dentist may offer a slightly lower price per crown. However, the material costs and fitting time per crown stay pretty much fixed regardless of how many you have.

Reducing the cost

Private dental insurance may cover some or all of the costs you incur at various stages of the process. However, this treatment is often only covered after a waiting period – typically between three months and one year after your policy starts. If you’re electing to get caps for your teeth for cosmetic reasons, check whether this is included in your policy.

Read more about dental plans in the UK, including what is and isn’t covered by certain providers. Keep in mind that you may have to pay for root canal treatment in addition to your crown.

For purely cosmetic improvements, veneers may also be an option. Speak to your dentist to find out which is the best choice for you.

Are crowns available on the NHS in the UK?

back teeth crowns

NHS crowns for rear teeth are usually metallic

Where crowns are medically beneficial they should be covered by the NHS. The band 3 treatment fee of £256.50 will apply. If you want crowns fitted purely for cosmetic reasons, for example to cover discoloured or misshapen teeth, you’ll need to pay for private treatment.

It’s likely that only metal crowns will be offered on the NHS for back teeth. If required for more visible teeth at the front it’s possible to get tooth-coloured crowns.

Even the very back teeth are visible when you open your mouth wide. Some people decide it’s worth paying the extra for private treatment so they can get porcelain crowns for their teeth rather than have metal ones via the NHS.

Getting cheap dental crowns abroad

Depending on the number of crowns you need, it may be more cost effective to travel abroad for the treatment.

Dental tourism is becoming ever more popular as Brits find themselves unable to afford complex dental care at home.

Countries like Hungary and Poland have dental clinics which offer excellent standards of care at a fraction of the cost of UK prices. Crowns in these countries, for example, may cost between £130 and £350 depending on the material used.

The process for capping a tooth

Visit 1: preparation

The dental crown procedure involves removing a significant amount – sometimes all – of the existing tooth enamel so the crown material can be securely fitted.

But before this, your dentist may take an x-ray to make sure your tooth can take a crown, and to check for any underlying complications. All being well, the dentist will numb your tooth and surrounding gums with an anaesthetic.

crown creation

It takes 2-3 weeks for crowns to be custom made to the right shape and colour

A root canal treatment may be necessary at this point. It’s also possible that your dentist will surgically remove some of the gum tissue to create a better base for the cap.

Most crowns need to be a minimum of two millimetres thick all over to allow them the strength they need to last. This means that your tooth will be trimmed by at least this much on all sides.

Your dentist will also remove all traces of decay, as well as any material from previous fillings. If this leaves very little tooth left to work with, he or she may build it back up again with a filling material. Once this is done, the tooth stump must be slightly tapered to be thinner on the top, so the tooth cap can easily slip over it.

Next, the dentist takes an impression of what’s left of the tooth so the crown can be created to fit it perfectly. It can take 2-3 weeks for the crown to be made in the specialist lab, so the dentist fits a temporary crown (made from composite or acrylic) to stop any sensitivity in the tooth.

The colour of the temporary tooth cap should blend in with your natural teeth, but the material and finish aren’t as high-quality as the permanent cap will eventually be. It’s at this point that your dentist will also choose the shade for your crown, if you’re getting it made in a material to match your teeth.

This first visit usually takes between 45 minutes and one hour.

Visit 2: fitting

Once the permanent crown arrives, you’ll visit your dentist again to have it fitted. The temporary tooth cap will be removed, and your dentist may again numb the tooth to avoid any sensitivity during this time.

fitting a crown on teeth

Dentists use precision drills to make refinements when fitting crowns

After checking that the fit of the new crown is just right, your dentist will apply a dental cement on the inside of the crown and press it down over your tooth. Any excess that has seeped out will be scraped away, and the process is complete.

If you have any concerns about the colour or shape of the permanent crown (especially for a front tooth crown), be sure to speak up before it’s cemented. It’s difficult to make any changes once your new cap is in place, and you’ll have to live with it for a long time!

The duration of this second visit depends on how many adjustments are needed before the crown can be cemented, but on average it takes 30 minutes – one hour.

Your capped teeth may feel a bit strange at first, since they won’t be exactly the same as your original ones. As long as they aren’t interfering with your bite you should get used to them within a couple of weeks.

The following video shows the full process of removing an old crown and fitting a new one. Be aware, it contains some close-ups of needles and drilling.

One-day CEREC crown fitting

There is an option on the market which lets you avoid multiple visits and weeks or months with a temporary crown.

CEREC technology allows dentists to make crowns on-site in just an hour or so from digital scans taken of your mouth. There’s no doubt that this is a more convenient option for patients, and many are happy to forego the unpleasant dental impression process.

CEREC crowns are relatively new to the market, meaning that not much data is available on their long-term performance. However, the general consensus from dentists is that while they are a strong and aesthetically pleasing option for back teeth, they can’t match the natural look of hand-crafted porcelain crowns for the very front teeth.

These dental crowns cost about the same as regular crowns because although there is no lab work involved and the process is faster, your dentist has to pay a lot for the machine that makes them.

How long do capped teeth last?

Although crowns are a long-term solution to restore damaged teeth, they don’t last forever. Some materials are more durable than others; gold, for example, does not run the risk of chipping or crackinf in the same way that porcelain does.

Your dentist may tell to expect your crown to last five to 15 years, but many last a great deal longer than this. A 2013 study assessed 2,340 gold-based PFM crowns and found that 97% lasted longer than 10 years while 85% were still going strong at the 25-year mark.

worn down gold crown

Even gold crowns can wear down eventually

Your crown will eventually need to be replaced if:

  • It becomes cracked or broken (ceramic)
  • It wears down (metal) or is causing excessive wear to other teeth (ceramic)
  • The tooth inside experiences decay
  • Its cosmetic appearance deteriorates (in the case of a front tooth crown)

Gold tooth crowns are generally the strongest but may wear down in places if the patient suffers from bruxism (tooth grinding). This condition can also be a problem for patients with porcelain crowns as this material is more likely to wear away other teeth that bite against it.

Caring for capped teeth

Temporary crowns

While your temporary tooth cap is in place you should avoid any chewy or sticky foods (like chewing gum or soft sweets) that may pull it off. Hard foods, like raw carrots and apples, are also best avoided.

Try to bite and chew mainly on the side of your mouth away from the crown, or only use the crowned tooth to bite very soft foods.

Finally, when flossing, slide the floss out sideways rather than pulling it back out between the teeth. If you lift it out like normal, it could catch on the side of the crown and dislodge it.

dentist flossing patient's teeth

If you’re unsure how to floss properly with crowns, your dentist will show you

Permanent dental caps

Your dentist may well advise you to avoid hard or chewy foods for the first day after your crown is fitted. This gives the cement enough time to set properly. Once you have regained normal feeling in your mouth, carefully test the bite of your crown in all directions.

If anything feels odd, report straight back to your dentist. He or she can refine the shape and ensure your crown isn’t interfering with your other teeth.

In the longer term, teeth with crowns should be cared for in just the same way as regular teeth by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. If you’re worried about dental floss catching on the edge of your crown, consider investing in a water flosser instead.

If your gums start to recede this can cause sensitivity in parts of the tooth not covered by the cap. It’s therefore important to minimise the risk of gum disease by having your teeth regularly cleaned by a hygienist.

In the case of PFM caps, if the gum recedes to below where the ceramic coating was applied, the metal will start to appear, resulting in a visible line right at the gum line. Depending on where the crown is, you may or may not consider having it replaced at this point.

If your crown chips or comes off completely, contact your dentist immediately so they can assess the damage. Chips can be temporarily filled with composite resin but the only permanent solution is to replace the entire crown. It’s possible to re-cement a crown that has come off providing there is no damage to it.

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