If you’ve ever crunched down on a popcorn kernel and felt instant pain in your mouth – you’ve likely also had to have a dental crown to repair your broken tooth. While the circumstances of needing a dental crown may be less-than-ideal, the process for receiving a dental crown has improved drastically over the years. Digital techniques in dentistry have nearly eliminated the need for goopy impressions and multiple appointments to receive a dental crown. But what exactly happens when you’ve experienced that excruciating dental pain?
The process for getting a dental crown includes three stages: a dental exam and diagnosis, preparation and scan of the existing tooth, and delivery of the final crown prosthesis.
The Dental Exam and Diagnosis
During the dental examination, the dentist will look at the tooth for signs of cracking and deterioration. A broken tooth is the most common reason for dental crowns. The primary goal of the dentist should be to maintain as much of the original tooth as possible. A crown can be placed over the damaged tooth to retain its structure and function. By maintaining the root structure of your tooth, you can preserve the bone structure in your jaw. Without dental crowns, damaged teeth would have to be extracted, leaving you with less function, potential bone loss, and an unsightly missing tooth.
Preparation and Scan of the Existing Tooth
Once a crown is prescribed, the dentist will prepare your existing tooth by polishing any rough edges that may result from the trauma. The dentist will then take an impression to be able to design the crown. In the past, and in many current dental offices, a goopy impression tray is fit into your mouth to obtain a mold of your teeth. Digital methods have now been developed to enable the dentist to use a special 3D scanner to take a series of images accurately within microns. This scan will be imported into a 3D design program to digitally create your tooth! The dentist and lab technician can design your crown in a short amount of time in this case and can design it to fit into your existing anatomy in a few clicks of the mouse.
Delivery of the Final Crown Prosthesis
Once the digital crown has been designed, it can be transferred to a dental mill located in our office. This mill will take a piece of blank material and create your customized crown that fits perfectly over your damaged tooth. Depending on the patient’s specific needs, the tooth will be milled out of either porcelain or zirconia. Porcelain is a more aesthetic look but can be more brittle, while zirconia is much stronger but not as aesthetic. Both can be reasonable solutions, and your dentist will choose the most appropriate one for your situation. In our office, a single crown can be milled and processed in about 1 hour. Special post-processing techniques are used to make your crown match the natural shade of your existing teeth. All of these processes and techniques are handled by our in-house lab and monitored by our dentist to ensure that your crown is the perfect fit for you.
Once your crown is complete, your dentist will use a special adhesive to fix the crown to your existing tooth, and off you go! Older crown preparation and delivery methods may have taken two or three appointments and up to 2 weeks. Digital dentistry has reduced the crown process to a single, seamless visit lasting less than 2 hours, not to mention improving patient experience and crown design accuracy through the use of digital methods.