CDA DentistsIf you have a problem with a tooth, your dentist may recommend a crown or a filling. But do you really understand the difference? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Many people get confused about dental treatment options, so here we’ll look in some detail at the difference between crowns and fillings to give you a better idea about which may be right for you.

Crowns and fillings are both classed as dental restorations in which a damaged tooth is repaired and restored to normal function and appearance. Most often the tooth will have been damaged by decay or injury.

Restorative dentistry can be categorized as either direct or indirect. Fillings are direct repairs while crowns fall into the indirect category.

A direct restoration is when your dentist repairs a tooth directly in your mouth – by filling a gap or defects in a tooth, for instance. An indirect repair involves taking an impression to create a prosthetic outside of the mouth – such as a crown.

What is a Dental Crown?

A dental crown is a cap that covers a tooth to restore its size, shape and strength, and enhance its appearance. Crowns are often fitted when a tooth is cracked or decayed and has lost so much structure it can't take a filling.

Crowns can also be used:

• When a tooth needs protection after a root filling.

• To cover a filling that’s become stained.

• To help secure a denture or bridge.

• To cover a dental implant.

Crowns are considered cosmetic when used simply to make teeth look more attractive, but also play an important role in restoring functionality of damaged teeth. Crowns provide an effective long-term solution for repairing teeth, and they have a high success rate.

Porcelain crowns are widely used but crowns can come in an assortment of materials, including gold and metal alloys. They’re fixed over the remaining part of a tooth with dental cement or a similar adhesive, which forms a seal to hold the cap in place.

The American Dental Association (ADA) says each type of crown has its advantages and disadvantages, and your dentist can help you to decide which is best for you. For instance, porcelain crowns can be vulnerable to chipping, and a large crack may need a complete replacement.

Before a crown can be fitted, the tooth has to be filed down to the correct shape, which is often an irreversible procedure. If a tooth is severely damaged or decayed, it will need to be filled before a crown is fitted.

Being custom-made, crowns are created to match adjacent natural teeth in terms of color, size and shape. Having a crown fitted should feel no different than having a filling, with just a local anesthetic.

What is a Dental Filling?

Dental fillings repair teeth deterioration and help to prevent further decay by sealing off places where bacteria can get in.

Fillings are used when teeth have not suffered significant damage. Decayed tooth material is removed and the tooth cleaned and filled, usually with a composite resin, amalgam (also known as a silver filling), gold or porcelain.

Fillings provide an efficient solution for relatively minor tooth damage while preserving most of the tooth’s structure. They cost less than crowns and should last several years, although not as long as crowns, which can have a lifespan of 15 years.

Composite fillings blend in with the surrounding teeth for a natural appearance but silver fillings are less prone to recurring decay and are more durable.

Fillings are most commonly used to treat minor cavities but more serious cases of tooth decay may need crowns or a combination of a filling with a crown.

How Crowns Provide More Protection Than Fillings

One of the chief differences between fillings and crowns is the level of protection that’s afforded.

A hallmark of a dental crown is how it strengthens a tooth. This is because a crown cups over the tooth and encases it, acting as a firm splint to hold the tooth together. A crowned tooth can withstand a high level of chewing pressure without risk of damage.

Fillings cannot offer as much protection. A filling can’t significantly increase the overall strength of the tooth. In some cases, placing a filling may put a tooth in greater danger of breaking.

However, fillings come into their own for repairing small cavities, when tooth strength is typically not a concern. In these cases, even after the hole for the filling has been drilled, the tooth remains pretty much whole and intact.

In fact, with minor tooth repairs, fitting a crown instead of placing a filling can be detrimental to the tooth. The crown procedure entails trimming the tooth, which can stress it and possibly damage nerve tissue.

Need Professional Advice About Crowns and Fillings?

Fillings and crowns are very different treatments although they may appear similar to a layperson.

With a filling, your dentist will place a soft material into the damaged tooth and shape it before it sets hard. This can be done in a single visit.

However, the more damage a tooth has sustained, the greater the likelihood that a crown will be needed for a longer-lasting repair by replacing more of the tooth to provide greater structural integrity. Tooth crown treatment generally takes two appointments.

For further advice about the difference between crowns and fillings, talk to a dentist experienced in restorative procedures. They will be able to tell you whether a crown or filling is the right option, based on factors including:

• Extent of decay or damage to your tooth.

• Your desired outcome.

• Your health.

• Your budget.