A crown is a type of dental restoration which completely caps or encircles a tooth or dental implant. Crowns are often needed when a large cavity threatens the ongoing health of a tooth. They are typically bonded to the tooth using a dental cement. Crowns can be made from many materials, which are usually fabricated using indirect methods. Crowns are often used to improve the strength or appearance of teeth. While inarguably beneficial to dental health, the procedure and materials can be relatively expensive.
The most common method of crowning a tooth involves using a dental impression of a prepared tooth by a dentist to fabricate the crown outside of the mouth. The crown can then be inserted at a subsequent dental appointment. Using this indirect method of tooth restoration allows use of strong restorative materials requiring time-consuming fabrication methods requiring intense heat, such as casting metal or firing porcelain which would not be possible to complete inside the mouth. Because of the expansion properties, the relatively similar material costs, and the cosmetic benefit, many patients choose to have their crown fabricated with gold.
Other reasons to restore with a crown
There are additional situations in which a crown would be the restoration of choice.
Dental implants are placed into either the maxilla or mandible as an alternative to partial or complete edentulism. Once placed and properly integrated into the bone, implants may then be fitted with a number of different prostheses:
- crowns or bridges
- precision attachments for either removable partial dentures, complete dentures or a hybrid sort of prosthetic appliance.
Endodontically treated teeth
When teeth undergo endodontic treatment, or root canal therapy, they are devitalized when the nerve and blood supply are cut off and the space which they previously filled, known as the "pulp chamber" and "root canal", are thoroughly cleansed and filled with various materials to prevent future invasion by bacteria. Although there may very well be enough tooth structure remaining after root canal therapy is provided for a particular tooth to restore the tooth with an intracoronal restoration, this is not suggested in most teeth. The vitality of a tooth is remarkable in its ability to provide the tooth with the strength and durability it needs to function in mastication. The living tooth structure is surprisingly resilient and can sustain considerable abuse without fracturing. But after root canal therapy is performed, a tooth becomes extremely brittle and is significantly weaker than its vital neighbors.
The average person can exert 150–200 lbs (70–90 kg) of muscular force on his or her posterior teeth, which is approximately nine times the amount of force that can be exerted in the anterior. If the effective posterior contact area on a restoration is 0.1 mm², over 1 million PSI of stress is placed on the restoration. Therefore, posterior teeth (i.e. molars and premolars) should in almost all situations be crowned after undergoing root canal therapy to provide for proper protection against fracture (mandibular premolars, being very similar in crown morphology to canines, may in some cases be protected with intracoronal restorations). Should an endodontically treated tooth not be properly protected, there is a chance of it succumbing to breakage from normal functional forces. This fracture may well be difficult to treat, such as a "vertical root fracture". Anterior teeth (i.e. incisors and canines), which are exposed to significantly lower functional forces, may effectively be treated with intracoronal restorations following root canal therapy if there is enough tooth structure remaining after the procedure.
Another situation in which a crown is the restoration of choice is when a tooth is intended as an abutment tooth for a removable partial denture, but is initially unfavorable for such a task. If the abutment teeth onto which the RPD is supposed to clasp do not possess the proper dimensions or features required, these aspects can be built into what is known as a surveyed crown.
A fourth situation in which a crown would be the restoration of choice is when a patient desires to have the appearance of his or her smile improved but when partial coverage (i.e., a veneer/laminate) is not an option for one or more reasons. If the patient's occlusion does not permit for a mildly-retentive restoration, or if there is too much decay or a fracture within the tooth structure, a porcelain or composite veneer may not be placed with any adequate guarantee for its durability. Similarly, a "bruxer" (someone who clenches or grinds their teeth) may produce enough force to repeatedly dislodge or irreversibly abrade any veneer a dentist can plan for. In such a case, full coverage crowns can alter the size, shape or shade of a patient's teeth while protecting against failure of the restoration.
Makeover shows such as Extreme Makeover make extensive use of crowns, as the time-frame of the makeover is too short to allow up to 18 months for orthodontic treatment for problems that might otherwise be corrected more conservatively.
Preparation of a tooth for a crown involves permanently removing much of the tooth's original structure, including portions that might still be healthy and structurally sound. All currently available materials for making crowns are not as good as healthy, natural tooth structure, so teeth should only be crowned when an oral health-care professional has evaluated the tooth and decided that the overall value of the crown will outweigh the disadvantage of needing to remove some healthy parts of the tooth. This can be a very complex evaluation to make, so different dentists (trained at different institutions, with different experiences, and trained in different methods of treatment planning and case selection) may come to different conclusions regarding treatment.
Traditionally more than one visit is required to complete crown and bridge work, and the additional time required for the procedure can be a disadvantage; the increased benefits of such a restoration, however, will generally offset these considerations.
Dimensions of preparation
When preparing a tooth for a traditional crown, the enamel may be totally removed and the finished preparation should, thus, exist primarily in dentin. As elaborated on below, the amount of tooth structure required to be removed will depend on the material(s) being used to restore the tooth. If the tooth is to be restored with a full gold crown, the restoration need only be .5 mm in thickness (as gold is very strong), and therefore, a minimum of only .5 mm of space needs to be made for the crown to be placed. If porcelain is to be applied to the gold crown, an additional minimum of 1 mm of tooth structure needs to be removed to allow for a sufficient thickness of the porcelain to be applied, thus bringing the total tooth reduction to minimally 1.5 mm.
If there is not enough tooth structure to properly retain the traditional prosthetic crown, the tooth requires a build-up material. This can be accomplished with a pin-retained direct restoration, such as amalgam or a composite resin, or in more severe cases, may require a post and core. Should the tooth require a post and core, endodontic therapy would then be indicated, as the post descends into the devitalized root canal for added retention. If the tooth, because of its relative lack of exposed tooth structure, also requires crown lengthening, the total combined time, effort and cost of the various procedures, together with the decreased prognosis because of the combined inherent failure rates of each procedure, might make it more reasonable to have the tooth extracted and opt to have an implant placed.
In recent years, the technological advances afforded by CAD/CAM dentistry offer viable alternatives to the traditional crown restoration in many cases. Where the traditional indirectly fabricated crown requires a tremendous amount of surface area to retain the normal crown, potentially resulting in the loss of healthy, natural tooth structure for this purpose, the all-porcelain CAD/CAM crown can be predictably used with significantly less surface area. As a matter of fact, the more enamel that is retained, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome. As long as the thickness of porcelain on the top, chewing portion of the crown is 1.5mm thick or greater, the restoration can be expected to be successful. The side walls which are normally totally sacrificed in the traditional crown are generally left far more intact with the CAD/CAM option. In regards to post & core buildups, these are generally contraindicated in CAD/CAM crowns as the resin bonding materials do best bonding the etched porcelain interface to the etched enamel/dentin interfaces of the natural tooth itself. The crownlay is also an excellent alternative to the post & core buildup when restoring a root canal treated tooth.
The prepared tooth also needs to possess 3 to 5 degrees of taper to allow for the restoration to be properly placed on the tooth. The taper should not exceed 20 degrees. Fundamentally, there can be no undercuts on the surface of the prepared tooth, as the restoration will not be able to be removed from the die, let alone fit on the tooth (see explanation of lost-wax technique below to understand of the processes involved in crown fabrication). At the same time, too much taper will severely limit the grip that the crown has on the prepared tooth, thus contributing to failure of the restoration. Generally, 6° of taper around the entire circumference of the prepared tooth, giving a combined taper of 12° at any given sagittal section through the prepared tooth, is appropriate to both allow the crown to fit yet provide enough grip.
The most coronal position of untouched tooth structure (that is, the continual line of original, undrilled tooth structure at or near the gum line) is referred to as the margin. This margin will be the future continual line of tooth-to-restoration contact, and should be a smooth, well-defined delineation so that the restoration, no matter how it is fabricated, can be properly adapted and not allow for any openings visible to the naked eye, however slight. An acceptable distance from tooth margin to restoration margin is anywhere from 40-100 μm. However, the R.V. Tucker method of gold inlay and onlay restoration produces tooth-to-restoration adaptation of potentially only 2 μm, confirmed by scanning electron microscopy; this is less than the diameter of a single bacterium.
Naturally, the tooth-to-restoration margin is an unsightly thing to have exposed on the surface of a tooth visible in a smile. In such a circumstance, the dentist would like to place the margin as far apical (towards the root tip of the tooth) as possible, even below the gum line. While there is no issue, per se, with placing the margin at the gumline, problems may arise when placing the margin too subgingivally (below the gumline). First, there might be issues in terms of capturing the margin in an impression to make the stone model of the prepared tooth (see stone model replication of tooth in photographs, above). Secondly, there is the seriously important issue of biologic width. Biologic width is the mandatory distance to be left between the height of the alveolar bone and the margin of the restoration, and if this distance is violated because the margin is placed too subgingivally, serious repercussions may follow. In situations where the margin cannot be placed apically enough to provide for proper retention of the prosthetic crown on the prepared tooth structure, the tooth or teeth involved should undergo a crown lengthening procedure.
There are a number of different types of margins that can be placed for restoration with a crown. There is the chamfer, which is popular with full gold restorations, which effectively removed the smallest amount of tooth structure. There is also a shoulder, which, while removing slightly more tooth structure, serves to allow for a thickness of the restoration material, necessary when applying porcelain to a PFM coping or when restoring with an all-ceramic crown (see below for elaboration on various types of crowns and their materials). When using a shoulder preparation, the dentist is urged to add a bevel; the shoulder-bevel margin serves to effectively decrease the tooth-to-restoration distance upon final cementation of the restoration.
A very important consideration when restoring with a crown is the incorporation of the ferrule effect. As with the bristles of a broom, which are grasped by a ferrule when attached to the broomstick, the crown should envelop a certain height of tooth structure to properly protect the tooth from fracture after being prepared for a crown. This has been established through multiple experiments as a mandatory continuous circumferential height of 2 mm; any less provides for a significantly higher failure rate of endodontically-treated crown-restored teeth. When a tooth is not endodontically treated, the remaining tooth structure will invariably provide the 2 mm height necessary for a ferrule, but endodontically treated teeth tend to be decayed and are often missing significant solid tooth structure. Because they are weaker after the additional removal of tooth structure that occurs during a root canal procedure, endodontically treated teeth require proper protection against vertical root fracture. Some have speculated that a shoulder preparation on an all ceramic crown that will be bonded in place may have the same effect as a ferrule.
Adequate and appropriate restoration of tooth structure
As crowns are fabricated indirectly (outside of the mouth) free of the encumbrances of saliva, blood, and tight quarters, they can be made to fit more precisely than restorative materials placed directly (inside the mouth). With regard to marginal adaptations (the circumferential seal which keeps bacteria out), anatomically correct contacts (touching adjacent teeth properly so food will not be retained), and proper morphology, the indirect fabrication of the restorations are unprecedented. Indirectly fabricated crowns may be fabricated one of two ways. In the traditional sense, the tooth in question is prepared, a mold is taken, a temporary crown is placed and then the patient leaves. The mold is then sent to a dental laboratory whereby a model is constructed from the mold, and a crown is created on the model (usually out of porcelain, ceramic, gold, or porcelain/ceramic fused to metal) to replace the missing tooth structure. The patient returns to the dental office a week or two later and then the temporary is removed and the crown is fitted and cemented in place. Alternatively, a crown may be indirectly fabricated utilizing technology and techniques relating to CAD/CAM dentistry, whereby the tooth is prepared and computer software is used to create a virtual restoration which is milled on the spot and bonded permanently in place an hour or two later.
3/4 and 7/8 crowns
There are even restorations that fall between an onlay and a full crown when it comes to preservation of natural tooth structure. In the past, it was somewhat common to find dentists who prepared teeth for 3/4 and 7/8 crowns. Such restorations would generally be fabricated for maxillary second premolars or first molars, which might only be slightly visible when a patient smiled. Thus, the dentist would preserve healthy natural tooth structure that existed on the mesiobuccal corner of the tooth for the sake of its natural appearance, the remainder of the tooth would be enclosed in restorative material. Even when porcelain-fused-to-metal and all-ceramic crowns were developed, preserving any amount of tooth structure adds to the overall strength of the tooth. Some dentists feel that the structural benefits of retaining some of the original tooth structure are more than offset by the potential problems of having a significantly longer marginal length (the "seam" on the surface between the crown and the tooth).
Inlays, onlays, porcelain veneers, crownlays and all varieties of crowns can also be fabricated out of ceramic materials, such as in CAD/CAM Dentistry or traditionally in a dental laboratory setting. CAD/CAM technology can allow for the immediate, same day delivery of these types restorations which are milled out of blocks of solid porcelain which matches the shade or color of the patients teeth. Traditionally, all-ceramic restorations have been made off site in a dental laboratory either out of feldspathic porcelains or pressed ceramics. This indirect method of fabrication involves molds and temporaries, but can yield quite beautiful end-results if communication between the laboratory and the dentist is sound. The greatest difference between these two differing modalities lies in the fact that the CAD/CAM route does not require temporization, while the laboratory-fabricated route does. Some argue that this lack of temporization can result in a decreased need for root canal therapy, as there is no temporary leakage between visits.
Restorations that are all-ceramic require wide shoulder margins and reductions of at least 1.0 – 1.5 mm across the occlusal (chewing) surfaces of the teeth. There are times where this reduction would be considered excessive, just as there are times when previous restorations or pathology require this much removal or more. Arguments against using all-ceramic restorations include a greater chance of fracture, when little to no enamel remains for proper adhesive bonding, or potentially when the patient clenches or grinds their teeth ("bruxes") excessively. Indications for using all-ceramic restorations include more natural appearance, when metal compatibility issues exist, and when removal of less tooth structure is desired. All-ceramic restorations do not require resistance and retention form and consequently less surface area need be removed and the restoration will still stay in place by virtue of micromechanical and chemical bonding.
Ceramic materials such as lithium disilicate dental ceramics have recently been developed which provide greater strength and life-expectancy of dental restorations.
Although no dental restoration lasts forever, the average lifespan of a crown is around 10 years. While this is considered comparatively favorable to direct restorations, they can actually last up to the life of the patient (50 years or more) with proper care. One reason why a 10-year lifespan is quoted is because a dentist can usually provide patients with this figure and be confident that a crown that the dental lab makes will last at least this long. Many dental insurance plans in North America will allow for a crown to be replaced after only five years.
The most important factor affecting the lifespan of any restorative is the continuing oral hygiene of the patient. Other factors are the skill of the dentist and their lab technician, the material used and appropriate treatment planning and case selection.
Full gold crowns last the longest, as they are fabricated as a single piece of gold. PFMs, or porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns possess an additional dimension in which they are prone to failure, as they incorporate brittle porcelain into their structure. Although incredibly strong in compression, porcelain is terribly fragile in tension, and fracture of the porcelain increases the risk of failure, which rises as the number of surfaces covered with porcelain is increased. A traditional PFM with occlusal porcelain (i.e. porcelain applied to the biting surface of a posterior tooth) has a 7% higher chance of failure per year than a corresponding full gold crown.
When crowns are used to restore endodontically treated teeth, they reduce the likelihood of the tooth fracturing due to the brittle devitalized nature of the tooth and provide a better seal against invading bacteria. Although the inert filling material within the root canal blocks microbial invasion of the internal tooth structure, it is actually a superior coronal seal, or marginal adaptation of the restoration in or on the crown of the tooth, which prevents reinvasion of the root canal.
Advantages and disadvantages
The main disadvantages of restoration with a crown are extensive irreversible tooth preparation (grinding away) and higher costs than for direct restorations such as amalgam or dental composite. The benefits, as described above, include long-term durability and evidence-based success as compared to other restorations or no treatment.
The crowning of two fairly large molars to sling a bridge between them for a missing tooth is a costly and sometimes oversold procedure. The increased food and bacteria trapping of the underside of the bridge often offsets the benefits of the bridge element in maintaining the positions of the opposing teeth and the loss of the ease of use and mouth feel of two big natural teeth.
It is usually the damage to a tooth that dictates the need for a crown, and alternative treatments are usually less effective. Risks and benefits can be weighed based on the priorities of the patient.
Those who could afford it were usually told by their dentists that a bridge was their best choice, because it is much sturdier than removable dentures and requires less looking after. When implants became available, however, they were recommended as the best possible treatment, because the virgin teeth adjacent to the edentulous area no longer needed to be cut in order to fit the bridge. The affluent are thus told that a fixed partial denture is no longer desirable, now that implants are available. However, implants are significantly more expensive than a bridge, and the results are generally much less immediate.
Types and materials
There are many different methods of crown fabrication, each using a different material. Available evidence suggests that all-ceramic crowns last about the same length of time or less than metal–ceramic crowns. Gold crowns are desirable because they require less reduction of tooth tissue than other types of crowns and they are the most long-lasting type of crown.
Zirconium disillicate having various brand names is usually used in posterior teeth because of their excellent strength.
Full gold crown
Full gold crowns (FGCs) consist entirely of a single piece of alloy. Although referred to as a gold crown, this type of crown is actually composed of many different types of elements, including but not limited to gold, platinum, palladium, silver, copper and tin. The first three elements listed are noble metals, while the last three listed are base metals. Full gold crowns are of better quality when they are high in noble content. According to the American Dental Association, full gold crown alloys can only be labeled as high noble when they contain at least 60% noble metal, of which at least 40% must be gold.
The process of constructing a full gold crown begins at the dentist's office. The clinician will begin by preparing the tooth by removing enough tooth tissue to allow for the crown. Once the preparation has been finalized the clinician will take an impression which is basically a mold of the patient's mouth. The impression and patient details are sent to a dental laboratory where the dental technician will flow dental gypsum into the impression to make a dental model. This model is an exact reproduction of the situation in the patient's mouth. The dental technician now has the information required to model a wax pattern of the final restoration allowing for the tooth shape, occlusion and preparation. The wax pattern can be removed from the model and a wax sprue pattern is attached. The pattern is now ready to use in the Lost-wax casting technique. It is invested in a gypsum or phosphate-bonded investment material, allowed to set then put into a furnace where the wax is completely burnt out leaving a hole for the gold to be poured in. Once the crown has cooled, the technician can remove the sprue, fit and polish the crown ready for cementation. The crown is returned to the dentists office where they can remove any temporary crown and cement the finished gold crown.
Porcelain-fused-to-metal dental crowns (PFMs) have a metal shell on which is fused a veneer of porcelain in a high heat oven. The metal provides strong compression and tensile strength, and the porcelain gives the crown a white tooth-like appearance, suitable for front teeth restorations. These crowns are often made with a partial veneer that covers only the aspects of the crown that are visible. The remaining surfaces of the crown are bare metal. A variety of metal alloys containing precious metals and base metals can be used. The porcelain can be color matched to the adjacent teeth or gingivae.
Restorations without Metal
Chairside CAD/CAM dentistry
The CAD/CAM method of fabricating all-ceramic restorations is by electronically capturing and storing a photographic image of the prepared tooth and, using computer technology, crafting a 3D restoration design that conforms to all the necessary specifications of the proposed inlay, onlay or single-unit crown; there is no impression. After selecting the proper features and making various decisions on the computerized model, the dentist directs the computer to send the information to a local milling machine. This machine will then use its specially designed diamond burs to mill the restoration from a solid ingot of a ceramic of pre-determined shade to match the patient's tooth. After about 20 minutes, the restoration is complete, and the dentist sections it from the remainder of the unmilled ingot and tries it in the mouth. If the restoration fits well, the dentist can cement the restoration immediately. A dental CAD/CAM machine costs roughly $100,000, with continued purchase of ceramic ingots and milling burs. Because of high costs, the usual and customary fee for making a CAD/CAM crown in the dentist's office is commonly two to three times higher than having the same crown made in a dental laboratory.
Typically, over 95% of the restorations made using dental CAD/CAM and Vita Mark I and Mark II blocks are still clinically successful after 5 years. Further, at least 90% of restorations still function successfully after 10 years. Advantages of the Mark II blocks over ceramic blocks include: they wear down as fast as natural teeth, their failure loads are very similar to those of natural teeth, and the wear pattern of Mark II against enamel is similar to that of enamel against enamel.
Popularly known as the "Empress Crown," the leucite reinforced system is superficially similar to a gold crown technique in that a hollow investment pattern is made, but the similarities stop there. A specially designed pressure-injected leucite-reinforced ceramic is then pressed into the mold by using a pressable-porcelain-oven, as though the final all-ceramic restoration has been "cast." The crown that is constructed can be stained and glazed or cut-back and layered with feldspathic ceramic to match the patients natural color and shape.
A study by the Umeå University in Sweden, led by Göran Sjögren, sought to study the effectiveness of leucite-reinforced crowns. Titled "Clinical examination of leucite-reinforced glass ceramic crowns (Empress) in general practice: a restrospective study”, it found Empress crowns cracked at approximately only a 6% rate, with the integrity of 86% of the remaining samples being called "excellent."
Alumina was introduced as a dental substructure (core) in 1989 when the material was slip cast, sintered, and infiltrated with glass. More recently, glass-infiltrated alumina cores are produced by electrophoretic deposition, a rapid nanofabricating process. During this process particles of a slip are brought to the surface of a dental die by an electric current, thereby forming a precision-fitting core greenbody in seconds. Margins are then trimed and the greenbody is sintered and infiltrated with glass. Glass-infiltrated alumina has significantly higher porcelain bond strength over CAD/CAM produced zirconia and alumina cores without glass.
Alumina cores without glass are produced by milling pre-sintered blocks of the material utilizing a CAD/CAM dentistry technique. Cores without glass must be oversized to compensate for shrinkage that occurs when the core is fully sintered. Milled cores are then sintered and shrink to the correct size.
All alumina cores are layered with tooth tissue-like feldspathic porcelain to make true-to-life color and shape. Dental artists called ceramists, can customize the "look" of these crowns to individual patient and dentist requirements. Today, porcelain fused to alumina crowns set the standard for tooth-like appearance.
Zirconia is a very hard ceramic that is used as a strong base material in some full ceramic restorations. Zirconia is relatively new in dentistry and the published clinical data is correspondingly limited. The zirconia used in dentistry is zirconium oxide which has been stabilized with the addition of yttrium oxide. The full name of zirconia used in dentistry is yttria-stabilized zirconia or YSZ.
The zirconia substructure (core) is usually designed on a digital representation of the patients mouth, which is captured with a 3d digital scan of the patient, impression, or model. The core is then milled from a block of zirconia in a soft pre-sintered state. Once milled, the zirconia is sintered in a furnace where it shrinks by 20% and reaches its full strength of 850MPa to 1000MPa.
The zirconia core structure can be layered with tooth tissue-like feldspathic porcelain to create the final color and shape of the tooth. Because bond strength of layered porcelain fused to zirconia is not strong, "monolithic" zirconia crowns are often made entirely of the zirconia ceramic with no tooth tissue-like porcelain layered on top. Zirconia is the hardest known ceramic in industry and the strongest material used in dentistry. Monolithic zirconia crowns tend to be opaque in appearance with a high value and they lack translucency and fluorescence. For the sake of appearance, many dentists will not use monolithic crowns on anterior (front) teeth.
To a large extent, materials selection in dentistry determine the strength and appearance of a crown. Some monolithic zirconia materials produce the strongest crowns in dentistry (the registered strength for some zirconia crown materials is near 1000MPa.), but these crowns are not usually considered to be natural enough for teeth in the front of the mouth; though not as strong, some of the newer zirconia materials are of better appearance, but they are still not generally as good as porcelain fused crowns. When porcelain is fused to the zirconia core, these crowns are more natural than the monolithic zirconia crowns but they are not strong. By contrast, when porcelain is fused to glass infiltrated alumina, crowns are very natural-looking and very strong, though not as strong as monolithic zirconia crowns. Another monolithic material, lithium-disilicate, produces extremely translucent leucite-reinforced crowns that often appear to be too gray in the mouth, and to overcome this, the light shade polyvalent colorants take on a distinctly unnatural, bright white appearance. Other crown material properties to be considered are thermal conductivity and radiolucency. Stability/looseness of fit on the prepared tooth and cement gap at the margin are sometimes related to materials selection, though these crown properties are also commonly related to system and fabricating procedures.
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- Dental Health: Dental Crowns
- Videos from Sheffield University showing the production of a cast gold crown