The dentist says you need a crown. Here's what you need to know

- The dentist says you need a crown.  So, we'll start at the beginning.    What's a crown?

"It's like a toothed-shaped helmet,” says Dr. Alex Roderiguez.  “It fits over the tooth and is the strongest and longest-lasting thing you can do to a tooth."

The owner of Atlanta-based Inman Park Dentistry says crowns are the best way to repair a broken tooth, or one with major decay, or a large filling.

"Fillings are great,” Roderiguez says. “But when they get more than, say, half the size of a tooth, they don't last. That's what a crown is for. A crown can easily last multiple decades.  My dad had a crown for 40 years without having it replaced."

The downside?  Commitment.

Getting a crown typically requires a couple of dental visits.  First, the dentist will drill down the damaged tooth to create a base for the crown.

Then, he or she will take a dental impression that will be used to build the crown.

When you come back, the crown is typically fitted and sealed to the base of the tooth.

"What we're trying to do with a crown is to get it to fit seamlessly, where it's no different from your natural tooth,” Roderiguez says.  “That's almost impossible to do in real life, but that's what we're going for. And the closer we can get it to seamless, the easier it is for the patient to take care of."

Roderiguez says they used to use primarily metal or metal-based porcelain crowns.

“They didn't look great,” he says.  “The metal showed around the edges. The porcelain could chip.”

Now, many dentists are switching to ceramic crowns, some of them they can design on a computer and then “reverse-3D-print,” Roderiguez says, right in their office.

"We've got newer ceramics now that are incredibly durable, he says. “The most durable things we've ever had."

Yet crowns are not cheap.

Ceramic crowns can range from about $1,000 to $1,600, depending on the dentist’s level of experience, the going market price in your area, and whether or not you have dental insurance..  But, Dr. Roderiguez believes, investing in a good crown will pay off in the long run.

"They're better looking than they ever were,” he says.  “They're stronger than they ever were. Honestly, it makes my job a whole lot easier these days."

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