Tooth Crowns: When Do You Need One?

If you have a broken or cracked tooth, you may be wondering how to fix it. If your tooth is severely damaged or decayed, the only way to save it may be with a tooth crown (or cap).

A dental crown is essentially an artificial layer that’s bonded over the top of your natural teeth and can restore them back to their original shape, size and strength.

When Tooth Crowns are Recommended

Dentists generally recommend tooth crowns for patients who have any of the following:

  • Fractured or broken teeth due to an accident or injury.
  • A deep cavity that has caused your natural tooth structure to break down beyond repair.
  • Decay in your molars has progressed to the point where your tooth is no longer strong enough and could break off at any time.
  • A chipped or cracked tooth that’s highly visible, causing you to feel self-conscious about your smile.
  • A weakened tooth that keeps breaking or cracking due to excessive wear or erosion.

You’ll typically have to visit your dentist three times prior to having a tooth cap placed on it. First, you need X‑rays taken so the dentist can determine if there’s any decay in the tooth or underlying bone that would interfere with the placement of a crown.

Then, you’ll have a mold (known as an impression) taken of your teeth in order to make the crown(s) as precise a fit as possible. Finally, you’ll receive the temporary crown, which will stay in place for about two weeks while your permanent crown is being created and custom-fitted.

While there’s some discomfort associated with getting tooth caps placed on them (the dentist might have to grind away a little of your tooth enamel to build up the structure surrounding it), you can minimize any pain or discomfort by taking ibuprofen about 10 minutes before treatment.

Tooth crowns can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years, depending on how well you take care of them at home and whether you have any cavities in other teeth. If you have an underlying cavity in one of your natural teeth, the crown will wear away faster and may need to be replaced sooner than if there were no cavities present.

Be aware that dental crowns aren’t a permanent fix for all tooth problems; it’s best to think of them as a temporary measure (until you can get your damaged teeth fixed permanently, such as by undergoing a root canal or dental implants).

If you’re wondering how long a tooth crown will last, you should remember that not all caps are made of the same material. The following is a brief overview of different types of materials used in making crowns:


Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns are made from a combination of ceramic and metal. Because they’re highly durable, PFM’s are considered to be the most long-lasting option for crowns; however, they come with a higher price tag than other options.


Crowns that are made of gold will stay in place longer than other options because they’re more resistant to corrosion and wear. Gold crowns typically need to be replaced after seven years.


If you don’t get along well with metal, a ceramic crown (sometimes referred to as porcelain-fused-to-porcelain) may be the best option for you. It’s durable and resistant to chipping or cracking and is considered one of the most long-lasting types of crowns, with a lifespan ranging from ten to fifteen years.

One downside to ceramic crowns is that they need extra protection against breakage, so your dentist may suggest getting fitted for a night guard  (which you’ll wear during sleep) in order to avoid damaging the crown.


Another non-metal option is zirconia, which is created by mixing yttrium oxide with other elements to create a colorless synthetic material that’s highly durable. As of today, it’s one of the most long-lasting options for crowns due to its resistance to acid erosion and corrosion.


Also referred to as “porcelain-fused-to-silver,” these crowns are made when a silver alloy is fused with porcelain. While they aren’t as durable as gold crowns, silver ones can last from ten to fifteen years with proper care.