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 esthetics 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 US.
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).
Table of contents
- 1 What is a dental crown?
- 2 What is a tooth crown made from?
- 3 How much does a tooth crown cost?
- 4 The process for capping a tooth
- 5 How long do capped teeth last?
- 6 Caring for capped teeth
What is a dental crown?
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:
- To restore a broken or damaged tooth
- To add strength to a weakened tooth
- Where a tooth has decayed and too much is missing for a filling
- To improve the cosmetic appearance of teeth
- To restore a tooth that previously had a very large filling that may be breaking down
- To reinforce and seal a tooth following a root canal
Crowns can be made from a variety of different materials. Some are metal-colored 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, and a lifetime of living with a removable prosthesis, like a denture or partial denture.
Unlike a dental 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?
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-dsown tooth. Some people might say that a ‘crown' is metal-colored while a ‘cap' is tooth-colored, 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.
Another term that may refer to a dental crown is “onlay.” An onlay is a similar restoration that can be created in a manner that is even more conservative in saving healthy tooth structure. With the advent of dental bonding technologies, we can be more conservative than ever when preparing a tooth for a crown.
What is a tooth crown made from?
The most common materials for teeth caps are:
- A dental ceramic such as porcelain or zirconia, colored to match the surrounding teeth
- Metal alloys (including gold, platinum, palladium, and non-precious metals) – either “white” (silver-colored) or “yellow” (gold-colored)
- A combination of the above, with ceramic fused to an inner metal crown (known as porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM crowns)
In addition, if you have a crown that is provisional 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 chromium and are silver-colored.
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 esthetically, and how long you need them to last.
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. They can also be created chairside using a new technology for milling crowns while you wait. These are great because they can be completed in only one visit with no need for a provisional cap.
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 over time, but when fabricated correctly, they should be expected to last 15+ years.
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. A gold crown can last a lifetime if the patient does their homework of keeping it clean and healthy.
The obvious drawback of any metal crown is the color. Many people simply don't want a gold- or silver-colored 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!
PFM crowns offer some of the strength of metal with the esthetics 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. However, they will almost always fil at the point where the two materials are joined. If the gums recede over time, a dark gray metal line can be seen and may be considered quite unappealing.
How much does a tooth crown cost?
Silver tooth caps cost from $500 to $1,500 while all-ceramic crowns cost up to $2,000 each. 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, inquire about the different options that may be suitable for you. A good practice is to ask your doctor what they would choose to have in their own mouth if they found themselves in a similar situation.
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.
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 US, 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.
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, however, you may also have no recourse should things go awry.
Dental tourism is becoming ever more popular as Americans find themselves unable to afford complex dental care at home. However, some dentists recommend visiting a US dental school as a better alternative. You can get excellent care under the supervision of an instructor for about one half of the cost of private practice.
If traveling from the US, you can get a PFM crown for $250 to $600 in places like Mexico and Costa Rica. If you need other dental work too, you stand to save even more. Some towns on the Mexican border have hundreds of dental clinics catering specifically to international patients who visit for a day or more to get their teeth done.
The process for capping a tooth
Visit 1: preparation
The dental crown procedure involves removing about one to two millimeters of tooth structure to ensure a proper fit and long-lasting function.
But before this, your dentist may take an x-ray to make sure your tooth is healthy enough to invest in and to check for any underlying complications. If all is well, the dentist will numb your tooth and surrounding gums with an anesthetic.
A root canal treatment may be necessary prior to your crown if you have pain, a severe crack or decay in the nerve. It's also possible that your dentist will surgically remove some of the gum tissue to create a better base for the cap.
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 preparation must include slight tapering to be thinner on the top, so the tooth cap can easily slip over it.
Next, the dentist takes an impression or digital scan 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 cap (made from composite or acrylic) to stop any sensitivity in the tooth and keep it functional and looking nice in the interim.
The color 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 provisional tooth cap will be removed, and your dentist may again numb the tooth to avoid any sensitivity during this time.
After checking that the fit of the new crown is just right, your dentist will apply a dental cement or resin bonding material 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 color or shape of the permanent crown (especially for a front tooth crown), be sure to speak up before it's cemented. Also, be sure your dentist allows you to look at it prior to the finanl cementation. Consider going outside to look at it in natural light, which can be the most honest. 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 provisional 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 esthetically 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 cracking in the same way that porcelain does.
Your dentist may tell you 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.
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. If you do grind your teeth at night, it may be smart to invest in a custom-made nightguard to keep your natural teeth and crowns protected. It's much cheaper than needing to crown multiple teeth due to wear!
Caring for capped teeth
While your temporary tooth cap is in place you should avoid any chewy or sticky foods (like chewing gum or soft candies) 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. You can read our temporary crown article for more information on care.
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. A spot that feels high will not go away on its own and can eventually cause pain in the tooth and jaw.
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. You should be able to eat whatever you want, but never use your teeth or your crowns as a tool—no biting open a plastic bag. Get some scissors!
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 minimize 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.
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 or repair kits 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.