How Does a Dental Crown Work? | A Complete Guide

A dental crown, often referred to as a “cap,” is a dental restoration that encases a damaged tooth to restore its shape, size, strength, and appearance. Dental crowns are a common solution in dentistry for a variety of dental issues, including decayed, broken, or worn-down teeth. Understanding how a dental crown works involves examining its purpose, materials, procedure, benefits, and care.

Purpose of a Dental Crown

Dental crowns serve multiple purposes:

  • Restoration of Damaged Teeth: Crowns are used to restore teeth that are severely decayed or broken. When a tooth is too damaged for a filling to repair, a crown can provide the necessary support and protection.
  • Protection after Root Canal Therapy: After a root canal, a tooth can become brittle and more prone to fracture. A crown helps to protect and strengthen the tooth.
  • Support for Dental Bridges: Crowns are used to anchor dental bridges, which replace missing teeth.
  • Cosmetic Enhancement: Crowns can improve the appearance of teeth that are misshapen, discolored, or otherwise aesthetically displeasing.
  • Dental Implants: Crowns are placed on top of dental implants to replace missing teeth.

Materials Used in Dental Crowns

Dental crowns can be made from a variety of materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Porcelain/Ceramic: These crowns are popular for their natural appearance, as they can be color-matched to the surrounding teeth. They are an excellent choice for front teeth.
  • Metal: Crowns made of gold or other metal alloys are known for their strength and durability. They are ideal for molars, where the forces of chewing and grinding are greatest.
  • Porcelain-Fused-to-Metal (PFM): These crowns offer the strength of metal and the aesthetic appeal of porcelain. However, the metal underlying the porcelain can sometimes show through as a dark line.
  • Resin: Crowns made of resin are less expensive but tend to wear down more quickly and are more prone to fractures compared to other materials.
  • Zirconia: Zirconia crowns are very strong and durable, making them suitable for both front and back teeth. They can also be color-matched to natural teeth.

The Procedure for Getting a Dental Crown

The process of getting a dental crown involves several meticulous steps designed to ensure the crown fits perfectly and functions effectively. This procedure is typically conducted over two dental visits, though advancements in dental technology have allowed for some same-day crown placements. Here’s a detailed look at each stage of the process:

First Visit: Examination and Preparation

Initial Examination:

Assessment: The procedure begins with a thorough examination of the affected tooth and the surrounding oral structures. The dentist evaluates the extent of damage, decay, or wear and tear that necessitates a crown.

X-rays: X-rays are taken to get a clear view of the tooth’s roots and the bone surrounding it. This step is crucial to detect any underlying issues such as infections or bone loss that need to be addressed before crown placement.

Tooth Preparation:

Numbing the Tooth: The dentist administers a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. This ensures that the patient experiences minimal discomfort during the procedure.

Reshaping the Tooth: The tooth receiving the crown is reshaped to make room for the crown. The dentist removes a portion of the outer surface of the tooth. The amount of tooth structure removed depends on the type of crown material being used. For instance, all-metal crowns require less removal compared to porcelain or ceramic crowns, which need more space.

Building Up the Tooth: If the tooth is severely damaged or decayed, the dentist may need to build up the tooth with a filling material to create a sufficient foundation for the crown. This step ensures that the tooth can support the crown securely.

Taking an Impression

Mold of the Tooth: After reshaping the tooth, the dentist takes an impression of the prepared tooth and the opposing teeth. This can be done using a putty-like material that the patient bites into or with digital scanning technology that creates a precise 3D model of the tooth.

Temporary Crown: The dentist fits a temporary crown over the prepared tooth to protect it while the permanent crown is being fabricated. Temporary crowns are usually made from acrylic or stainless steel and are not as durable as permanent crowns, so patients are advised to avoid sticky or hard foods that could dislodge or damage the temporary crown.

Second Visit: Placement of the Permanent Crown

  1. Removal of the Temporary Crown:

Taking Off the Temporary: At the beginning of the second visit, the dentist removes the temporary crown. This is usually a straightforward process involving gentle prying.

Cleaning the Tooth: The dentist cleans any residual cement from the prepared tooth to ensure a clean and secure bond for the permanent crown.

  1. Fitting the Permanent Crown:

Checking the Fit and Color: The dentist places the permanent crown over the prepared tooth and checks its fit and color. The crown should fit snugly without gaps and match the color of the surrounding teeth to blend in seamlessly.

Adjustments: Minor adjustments may be made to the crown to ensure a perfect fit. This can involve reshaping the crown slightly or adjusting its color. The dentist will also check the patient’s bite to ensure that the crown aligns properly with the opposing teeth.

  1. Cementation:

Permanent Placement: Once the fit and appearance are satisfactory, the dentist cements the crown in place. Dental cement is applied inside the crown, and it is then placed over the prepared tooth.Hardening the Cement: The dentist may use a special light to help harden the cement quickly, securing the crown firmly in place.

Final Adjustments: After the cement has set, the dentist makes any final adjustments to ensure the crown feels comfortable and functions properly. The patient is asked to bite down and move their jaw to check the alignment and fit.

Advanced Techniques and Same-Day Crowns

While traditional crown placement requires two visits, advances in dental technology have introduced methods like CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics) that allow for same-day crowns. Here’s how the process differs:

Aftercare and Follow-Up

After the permanent crown is placed, the dentist will provide instructions on how to care for the crown and what to expect in the days following the procedure. It’s common to experience some sensitivity or discomfort initially, but this typically subsides within a few days. The dentist may schedule a follow-up visit to check the crown and ensure it is functioning properly.


The procedure for getting a dental crown is a detailed and carefully executed process that involves preparing the damaged tooth, creating a custom crown that fits perfectly, and securely cementing it in place. Advances in dental technology, such as same-day crowns, have made this procedure more efficient while maintaining high standards of accuracy and patient comfort.

Proper care and regular dental checkups by a professional dentist such as NYC Dental Lounge can ensure the longevity and success of a dental crown, helping patients maintain both the function and aesthetics of their teeth.