Dental crowns are frequently used to repair teeth that have sustained considerable damage due to injury or decay. This restorative fixture looks just like the natural tooth and fits over the damaged structure to prevent further destruction. Because a crown fits over the tooth all the way to the gum line, there is a reasonable perception of long-term protection. In fact, crowns are intended to last up to 15 years. However, it is imperative that teeth restored with dental crowns be treated just like natural teeth that are susceptible to decay. Otherwise, there is a potential for bacteria to attack an already-vulnerable tooth.
How to Know if Decay Has Developed Beneath a Crown
Because many crowns are made with a metal substructure, decay detection can be a challenge. Whereas the metal-free crowns that are available today do not obstruct x-ray imaging, metal crowns are impossible to see through on x-ray. What we can do is observe the condition of the root on x-rays to evaluate the potential presence of infection. Meticulous inspection of the crown itself can also point us to underlying decay.
Why Decay is Possible
The perception of dental crowns being highly protective should not diminish because of the potential for decay. The better patients understand the structure of dental crowns, the more they can see where vulnerability lies. More importantly, they can understand how to protect their teeth – crowns or no crowns.
Regular dental checkups and cleanings keep your teeth and your restorations in optimal condition. During these routine visits, we can assess the overall condition of crowns, including the tightness of fit at the gum line. By checking the integrity of restorations periodically, we intend to catch signs of decay before the underlying tooth can be badly affected.
Daily oral care is also a critical factor in the longevity of a dental crown. Just like bacteria can accumulate at the gum line around natural teeth, these microorganisms can colonize around a crown. If they do, inflammation can cause gum tissue to loosen around the crown, allowing bacteria to enter hidden areas.
It is not uncommon for decay to develop beneath a dental crown. We encourage our patients to maintain excellent oral care habits to minimize this risk, and also to contact us if there is any suspicion that a crown may have been compromised.
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