What is a dental crown procedure?

A dental crown is a fixed device that covers a damaged tooth or a dental implant with a tooth-shaped cap. Placing a dental crown is an outpatient procedure that restores the strength and function of a tooth and the appearance of your smile. The procedure involves taking a mold of a tooth that has been filed down to make a customized crown to fit the tooth. The crown is attached with permanent cement. 

Placing a dental crown, also called a cap, is generally considered safe, but there are risks and potential complications. It is only one method used to repair damaged teeth. Discuss all of your treatment options with your dentist to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of dental crowns

The types of crown that your dentist may use include:

  • Ceramic crowns are made of porcelain blended with other materials. Ceramic crowns are tooth-colored and generally not as durable as metal crowns. Metal crowns can be made of copper, gold, and other metals. 
  • Metal crowns are often used on back teeth because of the metal’s strength and durability. 
  • Porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns are made of metal with tooth-colored porcelain laid over it. They are typically stronger than ceramic crowns, but the metal may become visible near the gums over time.

Other procedures that may be performed

You may need a root canal procedure if damage, decay or infection is deep enough to affect the pulp inside your tooth. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and other tissues.

A root canal involves drilling into the tooth and removing the pulp. Your dentist cleans the root canal and fills it with a permanent inert material. Then the tooth is filled and covered with a temporary material until the crown is ready.

Why is a dental crown procedure performed? 

Your dentist may recommend a dental crown to treat or repair the following:

  • Cracked or chipped teeth that cannot be repaired using less complex procedures. Sometimes, a severely damaged tooth will lead to an infection and need root canal treatment to save the tooth before placing a crown.
  • Dental implants that may be covered by a dental crown
  • Misshapen or discolored teeth that would look or function better with a dental crown
  • Missing teeth that are replaced with a bridge. Dentists may use a dental crown to support a dental bridge 
  • Tooth decay (cavities, dental caries) that occur when bacteria in your mouth produce an acid that damages the teeth. Dentists often repair minor to moderate decay with a dental filling, but severe or deep decay may require a dental crown to save the function and appearance of the tooth. 

Sometimes, a severely decayed tooth will need a root canal treatment to save the tooth before placing a crown.  

Who performs a dental crown procedure?

The following dental providers perform dental crown procedures:

  • General dentists prevent, diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the teeth, gums, mouth, and associated structures of the jaw and face.
  • Pediatric dentists specialize in caring for the dental needs of children and teens.
  • Prosthodontists specialize in restoring damaged teeth with crowns, bridges and other devices.

How is a dental crown procedure performed?

Your dental crown procedure will be performed in a dental office or clinic. Sometimes a root canal is needed before placement of a dental crown. You may need a root canal procedure if damage, decay or infection is deep enough to affect the pulp inside your tooth. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and other tissues.

A root canal involves drilling into the tooth and removing the pulp. Your dentist cleans the root canal and fills it with a permanent inert material. Then the tooth is filled and covered with a temporary material until the crown is ready.

A dental crown procedure generally includes these steps:

  1. You will sit in a reclining position in the dentist chair and wear a clear shield over your eyes. The shield can protect your eyes from spraying liquids and dental instruments.
  2. Your dentist will inject a local anesthetic into the gums near your tooth. The anesthetic prevents you from feeling pain during the procedure. Your dentist may apply a painless topical anesthetic to partially numb the gums before the injection.
  3. Your dentist will reshape your tooth so that the crown can fit snugly over it. To do this, he or she may fill any hollowed-out areas of your tooth with a filling material. The dentist will also file down certain parts of your tooth. 
  4. Your dentist will make a mold (impression) of your tooth and the teeth around it with a type of putty. Your dentist uses the impression of your teeth to make a customized crown that fits correctly. 
  5. Some dentists have equipment to make crowns in their offices. In this case, your dentist will make and place your crown during the same visit. Your dentist will use cement that permanently attaches the crown to your tooth.
  6. Some dentists send dental impressions to a lab that makes crowns. In this case, your dentist will place a temporary crown on your tooth until your permanent crown is ready. Your dentist will use cement that lasts for a few weeks or months. 
  7. You will return to the dentist’s office in a few weeks. Your dentist will remove the temporary crown.
  8. Your dentist will examine and test the crown for proper fit. This may involve grinding the crown to ensure a proper bite. 
  9. Your dentist will place your permanent crown with permanent cement.
  10. You may need to return for painless adjustments of the crown to ensure a comfortable bite.