Crown Vs Filling: Which One Is Right For You?

BY Dr. McDowell  |  May 25th, 2023
Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..

When you have a cavity or a damaged tooth, your regular or emergency dentist will likely recommend a crown or a filling to fix the problem. While these types of dental restorations are often used interchangeably, they do have more specific use cases. 

When it comes down to crown vs. filling in the dental world, your dentist will use several factors to determine which restoration option is better for your needs. As a dental patient, it’s important to understand the difference between crowns and fillings and why one would be recommended over the other.

Below we’ll talk about the differences between the two as well as their specific uses.

young dentist checking patient's cavity

Crown Vs. Filling: What’s the Difference?

The most obvious difference between dental crowns and fillings is that one fills a cavity while the other essentially covers the entire tooth. However, that’s not where the differences end. 

Dental Crowns

Dental crowns are also referred to as dental caps, and just like fillings, they can prevent future decay and deterioration. They do this by completely covering the damaged tooth or teeth, and they are generally used for reconstructing cracks, fractures, and breaks.

Crowns are also typically made from ceramic, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal, gold, or resin. They are designed from impressions taken in a dental lab and then molded using a milling machine. The end goal is to ensure that the patient’s tooth is protected and made to look and feel like a natural, functional tooth.

When applying the crown, a dentist will first remove any existing decay or old fillings and fill the empty space with a composite material. From there, they’ll apply a temporary crown over the tooth until the permanent crown is ready to be sealed into place. Same day dental crowns are also available for emergency situations.

Dental Fillings

Dental fillings, on the other hand, are the typical solution for cavities. Also referred to as tooth decay or dental caries, cavities are caused by lingering bacteria not adequately cleaned away. This bacteria feasts on the tooth’s enamel, creating holes.

With proper care, smaller cavities may remineralize. However, the larger ones need dental attention. To fill a cavity, your dentist will use either porcelain, a composite resin, a silver or gold amalgam, and sometimes, ceramic material. They typically number the area and use a drill to remove the decaying part of the tooth and then proceed to fill the hole. The entire procedure is virtually painless and can be accomplished in one quick visit. 

Dental fillings are an effective solution to cavities as they stop the bacteria from spreading further and restore the decaying tooth back to its normal condition. It should be noted, however, that most fillings don’t last forever — usually only between five and 15 years before needing to be replaced.

How a Crown Vs. Filling Is Determined

dental filling procedure by two woman dentists

There’s a lot more that goes into determining whether you need a crown or filling, as your dentist will need to choose the solution that would be most effective for you in the long term. 

The factors they look at include the following:

Cavity Size

While it may seem as if fillings are the only solution for cavities, the real solution will depend entirely on the size of the cavity. Essentially, when tooth decay is neglected and left untreated for a long time, it gets worse — as in bigger and deeper. When the size of the hole from the decay affects a substantial portion of the tooth, your dentist will likely recommend a dental crown. 

However, if the hole is smaller and the cavity is found in time, then a dental filling is the obvious solution. 

Tooth Condition

If you have a weak tooth or a tooth that has been filled one too many times, then you can expect your dentist to choose a dental crown. This is because each time a tooth is filled, it replaces the original structure of that tooth, making it weaker. 

Eventually, the tooth will be weakened to the point that it cannot stand up to regular chewing and biting, which can cause it to crack or break. Additionally, a tooth that has large fillings or several small fillings can be vulnerable to pulpitis, which is a bacterial infection of the root. In this instance, a crown would protect the tooth from pulpitis as well as restore its natural structure.

Cracked or Broken Teeth

patient with broken tooth before dental crown procedure

Dental crowns are customized to look and function just like your natural teeth. This makes them perfect for repairing damaged teeth that have chips, cracks, or are broken. 

A filling cannot be used to mend this kind of damage, as dental fillings, by design, are simply meant to fill small holes. A dental crown will protect the entire tooth from further damage that could potentially expose it to infection.

Root Canal

A root canal is the treatment designed to eliminate the bacteria that causes pulpitis, which will infect and eat away at the root of a tooth. The goal is to clean out the infection to prevent reinfection and save the natural tooth. However, the loss of the tooth’s core makes it hollow and, therefore, weaker.

When it comes to patients with a root canal, placing a dental crown over the weakened tooth is the best way to save it from the need for extraction. A dental filling cannot do this.

Discolored or Misshapen Teeth

When it comes to discolored or misshapen teeth, a dental crown is your best option. This is because crowns are designed to look exactly like a natural tooth, and your dentist will match the color, size, and shape of your existing teeth to ensure it blends in seamlessly. 

This is something a filling cannot accomplish.

Filling or Crown?

dentist showing patient's teeth on the xray for the dental crown procedure

As you can see, fillings and crowns aren’t as interchangeable as they seem to be, and only an experienced dental professional can recommend the right solution for your oral needs.

When it comes down to dental care, you can trust Wayzata Dental for fillings, dental crowns, and anything else you may need beyond regular cleanings. What’s more, you won’t have to worry about drilling as Wayzata uses laser dentistry for a painless and quick experience. 

Book your next dental consultation with us online or give us a call with any questions or concerns!

Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..