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What is the difference between a crown and a porcelain filling? Which is best for my tooth?

Teeth can be damaged, broken or weakened through a number of causes, such as trauma, decay, a large filling, and physiological or pathological wear and tear. Dental crowns and porcelain fillings are two types of the restoration available to patients to help strengthen and protect teeth that have been compromised in any of these ways. Which of these options is right for you?

Dental crowns

Dental crowns, also sometimes referred to as “caps”, can be made from a number of different materials, including porcelain, metal alloys and gold.

Porcelains can provide an aesthetically pleasing finish and can be reinforced by other materials to provide additional strength and durability.

Metal alloys are most often utilised as a base layer for porcelain since their appearance when used as a stand-alone material is generally not as pleasing. However, the metal adds strength, durability and hardness to the overall crown; that’s why they are often recommended for molars, which must withstand high crushing and grinding forces. These restorations are known as porcelain-fused metal crowns.

Finally, gold is the ultimate option in terms of longevity, from both a biological and a physical point of view. This kind of dental crown requires less removal of tooth structure and is more bio-compatible with your body’s tissues. On the down side, many patients find the colour and appearance of the crown not acceptable.

Porcelain fillings

Porcelain fillings are sometimes referred to as inlays, onlays or Cerec restorations. This type of filling is always made of a porcelain material, though the chemical and physical properties can vary between individual products.

Cerec restorations can be completed within one appointment, with machines that essentially “3D-print” your restoration to match the unique contours of your tooth.

For all other types, multiple appointments will be required, as the restoration must be sent to a laboratory to be fabricated by a dental technician.

What else do I need to know?

Apart from the different materials used for crowns, another distinction between dental crowns and porcelain fillings is the amount of tooth structure removal required for each.

A crown is usually recommended if there is very little healthy tooth structure left, either due to decay or cracks caused by increased functional forces and/or a large filling. Because this kind of restoration covers the entire natural “crown” portion of your tooth, significant removal of tooth structure is necessary to fit the crown on top.

Porcelain fillings, on the other hand, are recommended for teeth with more remaining tooth structure, but this can vary from tooth to tooth and the choice is best left to your dentist.

If you are needing a tooth restoration, feel free to discuss the available treatment options with your dentist, and voice any concerns or questions you may have regarding which restoration is most suitable for your needs.

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