Dental Crown Types: Porcelain, Steel, Gold & More
Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents
- Dental Crown Needs
- Materials Used in Dental Crowns
- Insurance Coverage for Crowns
Dental Crown Needs
You may break or chip a tooth, need a root canal for tooth decay, or otherwise need to have most of a tooth removed. Perhaps you have significant discoloration or wear on a tooth. In these cases, your dentist may recommend putting a dental crown over the tooth to restore its function and appearance.
Many modern dental crowns are made from material that resembles a natural tooth, but some less expensive, durable materials do not. There are several factors that your dentist will use to calculate which type of dental crown they will use, including insurance coverage, location of the crown, and how long different materials will last.
Crowns are typically considered a permanent dental appliance, with each material having a multi-year lifespan. If your tooth has extensive discoloration or damage, you may consider a different option, like veneers, depending on your specific case.
The Many Types of Materials Used in Dental Crowns
Dental crowns are made from several different types of materials.
Zirconia is a newer type of ceramic that is about as strong as metal, with a similar color to natural teeth. Porcelain veneers over zirconia provide an additional layer of strength and natural appearance.
Zirconia is biocompatible, meaning it will not cause an adverse reaction in the body, which some metals can. There are also more options for attaching these crowns to your teeth, so your dentist can better meet your oral health needs.
Even with a porcelain coating, zirconia may not resemble your other teeth in color. Because the material is so strong, it can be difficult to move or file down once it is bonded into place.
Lithium Disilicate / IPS E.Max
The IPS e.max is a system of dental crowns milled from the same block of lithium disilicate, making this a great option for people who need a bridge rather than one replaced tooth. Since the crowns are designed from the same block of material, they will be much more similar in appearance, which is aesthetically pleasing.
Like other ceramic materials, the e.max system is very strong. It is also one of the more expensive options, costing between $1,100 and $1,600. They cannot be whitened later.
Ceramic / Porcelain
Older types of porcelain and ceramic are still very much in use. They may be more affordable now that newer technologies like the e.max system are on the market.
Ceramic crowns are durable, but they are typically considered to be cosmetic. They may not be used for teeth that require more extensive replacement or coverage. They are also more often used to replace the front teeth since their color is closer to the natural color of teeth.
Because porcelain or ceramic dental crowns have no underlying support structure, like metal, they may be more prone to chipping or breaking, especially if you grind your teeth. They may aggravate adjacent teeth. These can cost as much as $3,000 per tooth.
Porcelain Fused to Metal (PFM)
This is the most common option for dental crowns, combining the strength of metal with the natural appearance of porcelain. As these materials are heated together, the porcelain chemically fuses with the base metal, creating a tighter bond through oxidation.
The porcelain is still prone to chipping, and it can still irritate surrounding teeth. These may cost $875 to $1,400 per tooth.
This is one of the oldest materials used in dentistry, originally for fillings or reshaping teeth. This alloy appears silver or gold, and it is not often used for front teeth except in rare cases to show wealth or extravagance.
Gold is durable and biocompatible, but not very strong. It is a soft metal, so it may flatten if you grind your teeth. This may cost up to $1,400 per tooth.
Base Metal Alloy
Other base metals besides gold may be used to restore the shape of teeth. Like gold, they will not have a natural appearance. Unlike gold, they are not used for any cosmetic reasons.
These options are typically limited to restoring teeth in the back of the mouth. They may also cause a reaction if you have a sensitivity to some metals. This material may cost around $800 per tooth.
Although resin is a common material for veneers, dentists do not recommend using it for adult crowns. Resin is a soft material that does not last long under pressure, and it is at risk of chipping or fracturing.
Dentists may use resin, like stainless steel, in children who need a crown over a baby tooth or to restore dental function to an area. These are also less expensive than most crowns, costing $600 to $1,300 per tooth.
Insurance Coverage for Dental Crowns
It is likely that your dental insurance will cover at least part of the cost of this restoration since crowns are often needed to restore dental function and oral health.
Crowns may take two to three procedures, depending on why you need one. For example, if you have a root canal, your dentist will want to make sure that periodontal disease is eliminated before they put a crown over the filling. If you have a tooth removed, your gums will need to heal. Then, a dental implant will need to be placed in your gum in a later procedure.
Although it is possible to get dental crowns for purely cosmetic reasons, this is typically not recommended. Much of the underlying tooth is removed for crowns to fit, which can allow infection or bone loss if you have otherwise healthy teeth. Although they are more durable than veneers, they are designed to support damaged teeth or replace teeth that are mostly gone rather than to replace teeth you simply dislike.
Because your dentist is more likely to recommend crowns for restorative and health reasons, your insurance should cover part of the cost. Most dental insurance companies cover about half of the cost of medically necessary dental crowns.
The crown is considered a separate procedure from any procedure leading up to it, including deep cleaning, root canals, or an extraction. These other procedures will be covered differently.
If you have had extensive dental work over the course of the year leading up to your extraction, you may have surpassed your coverage limit, in which case, your dental insurance will not cover as much, or any, of the dental crown.
If you have a health savings plan associated with your dental insurance, you may be able to use that to help you pay for the crown regardless of how much your insurance covers. Your dentist and their administrative staff can help you understand your dental insurance coverage for a necessary crown.
Crowns. Mouth Healthy from the American Dental Association. Date fetched: May 13, 2021.
Different Types of Dental Crowns. Colgate. Date fetched: May 13, 2021.
What Are Zirconia Crowns? Colgate. Date fetched: May 13, 2021.
IPS e.max for All-Ceramic Restorations: Clinical Survival and Success Rates of Full-Coverage Crowns and Fixed Partial Dentures. Materials. Date fetched: May 13, 2021.
Does Dental Insurance Cover Crowns? (August 2020). Investopedia. Date fetched: May 13, 2021.