Dental crowns are caps that cover a tooth or a dental implant. Dentists often recommend crowns as a way to support broken, weak, or misshapen teeth.

Dental crowns can also be used to cover up a tooth that’s very worn down or severely discolored. They can also be used in conjunction with bridges to strengthen multiple teeth.

When it comes to the materials that crowns are made of, you have several possible options, including ceramic and metal. Another option that’s now available for some people is a zirconia crown.

Zirconia crowns are made from zirconium dioxide, a very durable type of metal that’s related to titanium, although it’s categorized as a type of ceramic crown.

Crowns made of zirconia are becoming increasingly common, and they do offer some advantages.

Strength

One of the biggest advantages of zirconia is its strength and durability. Consider how much force your back teeth exert on the food that you chew.

Your crowns need to be made of a strong material, so zirconia may be a good choice for crowns in the back of your mouth. Also, because zirconia is so strong, a dentist won’t have to do as much preparation of your tooth.

Longevity

Zirconia-based crowns fared just as well over the course of 5 years as metal-based crowns, according to a 2017 randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Dentistry. And crowns made of zirconia, called monolithic zirconia crowns, are especially durable.

Biocompatibility

Zirconia is the choice of many dentists for its biocompatibility, which means it’s less likely to provoke the body into producing a reaction or immunological response like inflammation.

A 2016 in vitro study confirms this, and it also found only a limited amount of cytotoxicity.

Same-day procedure

Many dentists can make zirconia crowns in their offices rather than sending an impression of your tooth to a lab to have a crown made. Then, they can cement the crown into your mouth in a single visit.

The CEREC, or Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics, process uses computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology to speed up this process. The dentist uses a dental milling machine to actually make the crown from a block of zirconia.

This process eliminates the need to stretch the procedure into two visits. However, not every dentist office has this technology in-house or offers zirconia crowns.

Like many other dental procedures, there can be potential disadvantages to getting a zirconia crown.

Can be hard to match

One potential disadvantage of a zirconia crown is its opaque appearance, which can make it look less than natural. This is especially true for monolithic zirconia crowns, which are made just from zirconia, although it may be less of an issue for teeth in the back of your mouth.

Potential wear on other teeth

Some dentists have been hesitant to use zirconia crowns in some circumstances for fear that the hardness of the zirconia could cause wear and tear on opposing teeth.

While that may be a concern, a 2012 study in the Journal of Dentistry found that feldspathic porcelain was much more likely than zirconia ceramic to cause wear on the enamel of opposing teeth.

You’ve just learned that zirconia can be a little hard to match to the rest of your teeth because of the material’s opacity. That’s why some dentists will layer porcelain on top of the zirconia when making the crown.

A crown that’s composed of zirconia with a layer of porcelain will give it a more natural appearance that can be easily color-matched to your surrounding teeth.

According to some experts, the porcelain layer can make the crown a little more likely to chip or delaminate (separate into layers). That may be something to consider.

In general, dental crowns in general can be very pricey, costing anywhere from $800 and $1,500.

Zirconia crowns typically cost more than other types of dental crowns, such as ceramic, metal, and porcelain. They range in price from $1,000 to $2,500. Your geographic location can also affect the cost.

Your insurance company may not cover the cost of a crown. But it’s definitely worth consulting your insurance company to find out if they cover all or part of the cost of a crown, or if they cover particular types of crowns.

Of course, zirconia crowns aren’t your only option. Other materials commonly used in crowns include:

  • ceramic
  • porcelain
  • metal
  • composite resin
  • combinations of materials, such as porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM)

You’ll want to discuss the best material for your situation with your dentist. This will include how much of your natural tooth remains, the location and function of the tooth that needs the crown, the amount of gum that’ll show when you smile or talk, and the color of your surrounding teeth.

There are two main types of procedures for installing a dental crown. Your dentist can prepare your tooth and install a temporary crown during one visit and then cement the permanent crown into your mouth during the second visit.

Or, you can have a same-day procedure if your dentist has the appropriate technology and equipment to create a zirconia crown in-office.

Two-visit procedure

The dentist will:

  1. Take an X-ray of your mouth and prepare your tooth for the procedure, which may include administering local anesthetic.
  2. Remove part of the outer layer of your tooth, if necessary.
  3. Make an impression of your tooth.
  4. Install a temporary crown over your tooth.
  5. Have a dental lab make the crown from your impressions.
  6. Ask you return to their office after the new crown is made so that they can cement it to your tooth.
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Two-visit dental crown procedure.

Same-day installation

With this procedure, the dentist will:

  1. Examine your mouth, take digital pictures, and prepare your tooth for the procedure, which may include administering local anesthetic.
  2. Use the digital scan from the photos to create the crown in the office.
  3. Cement the crown into place.

Zirconia crowns might be a good option if you need a crown on one of your teeth. Zirconia crowns offer a number of advantages, including durability. But you’ll also want to weigh the possible disadvantages and the cost when discussing the issue with your dentist.