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Crowns and bridges
Dr Mariam Chung Reviewed by Dr Mariam Chung, Dentist

Crowns and bridges can help repair or even replace a damaged tooth. Find out what they are, when a dentist might recommend them, and what to expect.

If you’ve damaged or lost a tooth, a dentist might recommend a dental crown or bridge to repair it.

What's the difference between a crown and bridge?

Crowns and bridges are both often talked about as “indirect dental restorations” or “prosthodontic” procedures, and many of them are even made from the same materials. But they have pretty different purposes. 

Let’s start with crowns. 

Dental crown

A crown is a kind of dental “cap” that a dental professional can place over a damaged or weakened tooth to restore its shape, strength or appearance. Crowns have many uses in dentistry, including:

Most crowns today are made from tooth-coloured porcelain (ceramic). Some dentists offer other types of crowns too, such as gold crowns and porcelain fused to metal (PFM) crowns.

Dental bridge

A bridge is an artificial tooth that fills the gap left by one or more missing teeth

There are several types of bridges that are supported in different ways.

  • A traditional bridge is supported by crowns placed over healthy teeth on both sides. This type of bridge is usually more versatile than others and might be an option regardless of where the damaged tooth is located in your mouth. 
  • A cantilever bridge is only supported by a crown on one side. Dental professionals typically won’t recommend this type of bridge if it’s repairing a tooth in the back of the mouth — it may not be able to withstand as much pressure as other types of bridges. 
  • A resin-bonded bridge has wings that are bonded to the back of the neighbouring teeth. These are mostly suitable for teeth in the front of the mouth.
  • An implant-supported bridge is anchored by a dental implant that a dentist or surgeon has placed into the jaw.*

Bridges are usually made from porcelain that can be matched to your natural tooth shade, but your dentist might offer other options such as a metal or PFM bridge.

Elderly Couple Laughing

How are dental crowns made?

If you choose to get a dental crown, your dentist first needs to prepare your tooth by reducing its size. Then, a mould of this prepared tooth is used to design and manufacture your custom crown.

Crowns is usually made in a dental laboratory, separate from your dentist’s clinic. It can take a week or more before your crown arrives, your dentist will usually fit you with a temporary crown to protect your tooth in the meantime. Once your crown is ready, your dentist will check that it fits properly over your tooth, make any adjustments needed and cement it into place.

However, some dental clinics use CEREC technology. This allows the dentist to fabricate your crown right there in the clinic minimising the number of visits you need to make.

How are dental bridges made?

Dental professionals make bridges in a similar way to crowns. Depending on the type of bridge you choose, the 2 teeth on either side of the gap may need to be reduced in size for crowns to be fitted.

If your bridge and crowns are manufactured off-site, you may be given a temporary bridge to wear before they arrive. When they're ready, your dentist will cement them into place and secure the bridge to the crowns.

If your bridge is supported by an implant, the dental implant procedure is more complex and involves oral surgery.

Same day crowns and bridges

Some dental clinics use computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology such as CEREC to make a same day crown or bridge during your appointment. 

They’ll send the design to an onsite milling machine that makes your custom crown or bridge out of a block of ceramic, selected to match your natural tooth colour. This can help you avoid the wait time that's normally involved when restorations are manufactured externally. You might even be able to complete your treatment in a single visit.

What to expect after getting a crown or bridge

Your teeth may feel more sensitive to temperature and pressure after they've been prepared for crowns and for a short time after crowns are fitted. This should go away gradually.

A new crown could come loose if you eat hard, crunchy or sticky foods. You can lower your risk of problems by only eating soft foods for a few days. This is true of a temporary crown – not the final crown. Your dentist should give you specific advice, though.

Crowns and bridges don't decay like natural teeth do, however, it is still important to follow good oral hygiene to keep the underlying teeth healthy. You should brush and floss crowns and bridges just like regular teeth to remove plaque and leftover food. Your dentist can show you how to clean underneath your bridge.

What are the alternatives to a crown or bridge?

Possible alternatives to crowns include:

  • a filling to help repair a damaged or decayed tooth when most of the tooth’s structure remains
  • inlays/onlays to restore a chipped or decayed tooth when enough of the tooth's structure remains
  • dental veneers if you want to change the shape, size or colour of your teeth.

Alternatives to bridges are dentures or dental implants* for replacing one or more missing teeth.

Questions?

Explore more topics on how dentists may be able to fix teeth or speak with a dentist near you.

 

*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner

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The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.

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