6 Common Questions About Composite Fillings and Porcelain Crowns

Composite fillings and porcelain crowns are two very popular forms of restorative dental care. Both are often used to bring strength and beauty back to teeth after damage, such as untreated tooth decay. Since these two forms of tooth restoration share similarities in what they’re made of and how they function, it can be easy to mix them up.

To help you better understand the differences between composite fillings and porcelain crowns, we’ve answered six common questions we’re often asked about these two procedures.

1. What’s the difference between a composite filling and a porcelain crown?

Composite fillings are made of a tooth-colored composite resin material and are used to fill a hole left in a tooth after tooth decay removal. They can also be used to fix a tooth that has experienced a small chip. Composite fillings are strong, but they do require a good amount of tooth structure to be used.

Crowns completely cover a damaged tooth in a cap-like fashion. Crowns can be made of a number of different materials. At Allred Family Dentistry, we use E-MAX porcelain, zirconia porcelain, porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM), and full metal (i.e. gold). These materials are beautiful, realistic, and exceptionally durable.

Crowns are used for severely damaged teeth that don’t have enough tooth structure left to receive a filling.

2. When is a porcelain crown necessary?

A crown is a necessity when a tooth’s damage is significant enough that a filling won’t work but there’s still enough tooth structure left to preserve. Crowns are a great way to save a weakened but otherwise healthy or saveable tooth. Without a crown, the only other option may be extraction and opting for a dental implant or bridge.

The only way to know if a crown is a possibility is after a consultation with your dentist. In some cases, tooth decay may need to be removed first before your dentist can determine if you’re a candidate for a composite filling versus a crown.

3. Are composite fillings better than silver fillings?

Composite fillings are durable, long-lasting, and very attractive in appearance. In fact, it can be hard to tell which tooth even has a filling when this material is used. Silver fillings, properly called amalgam fillings, are a traditional filling material and may occasionally be done in modern dentistry.

Amalgam fillings are slightly stronger than composite fillings, but they do have pros and cons. For example, silver fillings can contract and expand with exposure to heat or cold.  This can eventually lead to a hairline crack in your tooth. If this occurs, you may need to get a crown to fix the problem in the future.

If you do have old silver fillings you don’t like, you can ask your dentist about having them removed and replaced.

4. How long do composite fillings and porcelain crowns last?

On average, a composite filling will last between five and 10 years. Porcelain crowns last longer, upwards of 15 years or more.

It’s tricky to say exactly how long composite fillings and porcelain crowns will last, as there are a number of factors that can affect longevity. For example, if you have bruxism and regularly grind or clench your teeth, your fillings or crown may not last as long. The location of the filling or crown can also affect longevity, as molars tend to take the brunt of chewing compared to front teeth.

Part of the reason we use E-MAX porcelain and zirconia porcelain materials at Allred Family Dentistry is to ensure our patients’ crowns last as long as possible.

To further expand the life of your composite fillings or porcelain crowns, see your dentist regularly (every six months) and keep up your oral care routine at home. Avoiding hard, crunchy foods or sticky sweets can also help prevent fillings or crowns from loosening.

5. What’s the process of getting a composite filling?

Getting a composite filling is a very simple process, with the actual filling only taking a single appointment. Initially, your dentist will examine your teeth and review your X-rays to see the extent of the tooth decay present. If your dentist suspects there will be enough healthy tooth structure left, you’ll move forward with the composite filling process.

From there, you can lay back and relax as your dentist numbs you and removes the decay on the tooth. The composite material is very soft, and your dentist will roughly shape it to fit the spot in your tooth. Using a special tool, the composite will be cured, hardened, and etched to ensure the filling is as strong as possible.

The final step of getting a composite filling is polishing to get a natural smooth finish to the new filling.

6. What’s the process of getting a porcelain crown?

Getting a dental crown is also a fairly simple process, but it does take longer than a composite filling. A dental crown will usually take two appointments, with a few weeks of wait time in between.

During the first appointment, your tooth will be prepped by having decay removed and an impression or mold taken of the newly prepped tooth. Your dentist will send this impression off to a lab for your permanent crown to be created. At the end of this appointment, your dentist will place a temporary crown over the tooth.

A lab can take a couple of weeks to receive your impressions, create the permanent crown from E-MAX porcelain, zirconia porcelain, or metal, and ship it back to your dentist. Once your dentist receives your permanent crown, you’ll come back for your second appointment to have the temporary one removed and the permanent one placed.

In some cases, you might come back for a third appointment a few weeks later so your dentist can check up on the placement of your permanent crown.

Schedule a composite filling or crown appointment at Allred Family Dentistry.

The sooner we can help you get your damaged tooth back on track with a composite filling or a crown, the sooner you can feel the benefits of a healthy smile. If you suspect you might have a cavity or you’re ready to get back on track with a previous treatment plan, it’s time to schedule an appointment.

To book your visit with Allred Family Dentistry, you can either give one of our offices a call directly or fill out our online Request a Visit form.