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Veneers and crowns are both dental restoration methods that can improve the look and function of your teeth. The main difference is that a veneer covers only the front of your tooth and a crown covers the entire tooth.

Dental restoration procedures are costly, so it’s important to know which one may be best for you. Although the procedures are different, both have good success rates.

Here’s a look at the differences between veneers and crowns, the pros and cons of each, and how they’re used.

A veneer is a very thin layer of porcelain or other materials, about 1 millimeter (mm) in thickness, that’s bonded to the front of your existing tooth.

A crown is about 2 mm in thickness and covers the whole tooth. It can be all porcelain, porcelain fused to a metal alloy (PFM), or an all-metal alloy.

Whether a veneer or a crown is right for you will depend on the condition of your teeth and what you’re trying to fix. Common conditions for restoration are:

Both crowns and veneers are color matched to your teeth, except for all-metal crowns.

A veneer covers only the front surface of your tooth. They’re not as invasive as crowns, because the preparation leaves more of your original tooth intact.

About half a millimeter of the enamel on the front of the tooth is ground down to roughen the surface for bonding the veneer. Some newer types of veneers don’t need as much grinding of the tooth surface. You may need a local anesthetic for this, because the grinding may be painful.

For a veneer to work properly, your tooth has to have enough enamel on it for a veneer to bond to it.

What’s involved with getting a veneer?

  • The dentist will make an impression of your prepared tooth by digitally scanning it or using a mold. The image or mold may be sent out to a lab if your dentist doesn’t have a facility on site.
  • Depending on how much your tooth was trimmed, you may have a temporary veneer placed on the tooth until the new one is ready.
  • When ready, the permanent veneer will replace the temporary one. It will be bonded to the tooth with a special cement and hardened with an ultraviolet lamp.
  • There’s typically minimal movement of the tooth after the veneer is in place. But you may need to wear a night guard to protect the veneer if you grind or clench your teeth at night.

A crown covers the entire tooth. With a crown, more of the tooth needs to be filed or ground down to prepare for the crown placement.

If you have tooth decay, your dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth before making the crown. In this case, your tooth may need to be built up to support the crown.

Your tooth may also need to be built up if it’s damaged. You may have a local anesthetic for this procedure.

What’s involved with getting a crown?

  • Your dentist will produce an impression of your tooth by digitally scanning it or by making a mold. The image or mold will be sent out to a lab for fabrication of the crown, if the dental office doesn’t have a lab facility.
  • The dentist may place a temporary crown on your ground-down tooth so that you can use your tooth while the permanent crown is being made.
  • When the permanent crown is ready, the dentist will remove the temporary crown. They’ll then place the permanent crown on your tooth and will adjust it so that it fits correctly and your bite is right. Then they’ll cement the new crown into place.
  • Teeth with crowns may have some movement, which can change your bite. If this happens, you’ll need to have the crown adjusted.

If your tooth has a large filling, a root canal, or is very worn or cracked, a crown is likely the best option.

If your tooth is basically intact and the restoration is for cosmetic purposes, a veneer may be the best option. Veneers can also be used for minor shape corrections.

Veneers and crowns can be costly. Individual costs vary, depending on the size of your tooth, where it is in your mouth, and the average prices in your area.

Most dental insurance programs won’t cover cosmetic dentistry. Also, most dental plans have a maximum annual limit of coverage. Check with your insurance company to see what they’ll cover.

Veneers

According to the American Cosmetic Dentistry organization, the cost for a veneer can range between $925 to $2,500 per tooth.

Porcelain veneers are more expensive than composite veneers, but they last longer, according to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry. The price of composite veneers ranges from $250 to $1,500 per tooth.

Crowns

The cost of a crown varies by the material used to make the crown, the amount of prep work needed, and the size of the tooth.

According to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry, crowns can range in price from $1,000 to $3,500 per tooth. This figure doesn’t include other procedures such as core buildup or root canals that might be needed before the crown is made.

Porcelain and ceramic crowns tend to be slightly more expensive than all-metal crowns.

Ways to save

Ask your dentist if they have a budget or payment plan, or if you can space out your payments over one or two years without interest.

Dental prices in your area may vary. Call other local dentists to see if there are better options.

If you live near a university with a dental school, you may be able to find a dental clinic where supervised dental students perform dental procedures for crowns, veneers, and other dental needs at reduced rates.

Veneer pros

  • They may be more aesthetically pleasing than crowns in the long run, because they don’t show a gum margin after several years, as crowns sometimes do.
  • Some veneers don’t require a lot of trimming, so more of your healthy natural tooth remains.
  • Teeth with veneers have minimal movement.

Veneer cons

  • Veneers leave more areas of your tooth exposed to new decay.
  • Composite veneers cost less, but may only last 5–7 years. Other materials last longer, but may have to be replaced.
  • Veneers aren’t reversible.
  • Veneers may not be covered by dental insurance.

Crown pros

  • All of the tooth is covered, so your tooth is more protected from decay.
  • Porcelain crowns look and feel just like your natural teeth.
  • Crowns are relatively permanent and don’t have to be removed for cleaning as dentures do.
  • Dental insurance may cover a portion of the cost of a crown.

Crown cons

  • More of your natural tooth is removed to make room for the crown.
  • Your crowned tooth may be more sensitive to heat and cold initially and you may experience gum pain. If sensitivity increases, schedule a follow-up visit.
  • Porcelain is fragile and can be damaged over time.
  • Porcelain fused to a metal alloy (PFM) crown shows a thin dark line between your natural tooth and the crown.

You’ll want to know at the outset how much your crown or veneer is going to cost, and how much, if anything, your insurance will pay toward the cost. You’ll also want to know about your dentist’s experience with both procedures.

Other questions for your dentist depend on your particular needs, but some questions you may want to ask include the following:

  • Are there other options to consider, such as dentures or implants?
  • How long do you expect my veneer or crown material to last?
  • Will the initial cost cover subsequent visits if the crown fit isn’t right?
  • Will I need to wear a mouth guard?
  • Do you recommend any special care for the veneer or crown?

Advice from a dentist

Kenneth Rothschild, DDS, FAGD, PLLC, has 40 years of experience as a general dentist and is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry and Seattle Study Club. He’s been awarded a Fellowship in the Academy, and he’s completed mini-residences in prosthodontics and orthodontics.

“The most important things to consider when deciding between veneers and crowns,” Rothschild said, “are that porcelain laminate veneers require less tooth reduction than full crown coverage preparations. They are also more aesthetically pleasing, when indicated.”

“The costs of veneers and crowns are similar,” Rothschild said. “Veneers, when suggested, are usually available for anterior (front) teeth and occasionally bicuspids. If existing tooth structure is minimal, then full coverage crowns are generally preferred over veneers.”

Rothschild recommends asking if your dentist uses conservative depth cutting techniques when preparing teeth for porcelain laminate veneers.

Also, because color match is important, ask whether lab porcelain technicians are available to aid in shade and tint selections.

Both veneers and crowns can improve your smile and the function of your teeth. Both are costly procedures, especially when more than one tooth is involved.

Veneers are used when you want cosmetic improvement, like covering crooked or chipped teeth, especially your front teeth.

Crowns are used when the tooth has a lot of decay or is broken or needs a root canal. Crowns may also be more appropriate when you need to brace adjoining teeth.

Getting regular dental checkups and practicing good dental hygiene are vital for maintaining your veneer or crown and the rest of your teeth.