Crowns, bridges, and veneers are all types of dental implants. A crown, which is also sometimes called a cap, typically covers the entire tooth. It is used when the tooth is severely damaged, as by a root canal or a large cavity.
A bridge is used when a tooth is missing and the dentist wants to prevent the other teeth from drifting into the space. Veneers are thin plates that are added to the front of a tooth to improve its appearance or to strengthen it.
A crown can be made of gold, porcelain, acrylic resin or a combination of materials. Porcelain crowns have the advantage of looking more natural than the other options.
In some cases, a crown will have a metal core with a porcelain coating. The metal core can cause a black line next to the gums, and it can make the false tooth look dull.
A wholly ceramic or porcelain crown, by contrast, looks more natural. It allows light to pass through it the way it would pass through a real tooth.
There are three types of bridges. The most common type is called a fixed bridge, and it is a false tooth attached to two crowns that cap neighboring teeth on either side.
The “Maryland bridge” is generally used to replace missing front teeth. In this type, a false tooth has metal wing wires that attach it to neighboring teeth.
Since real teeth are somewhat translucent, the metal wings will make the neighboring teeth look darker than they should. The false tooth, by contrast, will look lighter than its immediate neighbors.
A variation called the Encore bridge uses a resin framework that the dentist bonds to neighboring teeth.
After implanting the framework, the dentist will put a porcelain veneer on the front where the tooth would have been. A cantilever bridge is a false tooth attached to two crowns, but they cap the two closest teeth on one side.
In most bridges, the false teeth and crowns will be made of porcelain or some other ceramic.
Veneers can be made from porcelain or a composite. Both look natural, but the porcelain veneers last significantly longer. Well-cared for porcelain veneers can last up to 14 or 15 years while composite veneers last five or six years.
Porcelain veneers also have the advantage of versatility. They can be used to reduce or close gaps between teeth, and they can also be used to change the size, shape, color or position of a tooth. They can also resist stains.
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