The Evolution of Dental Crowns: From Ancient Status Symbols to Modern Dental Solutions

Also known as a cap, a dental crown is a prosthetic device used to strengthen, restore function to, and improve the appearance of a damaged, weakened, or decayed tooth. Today, dental crowns have advanced so much that you probably won’t even be able to tell if someone has a crown. Nevertheless, dental crowns haven’t always looked like natural teeth.

The Multifunctional Role of Dental Crowns

What are the different uses for a dental crown? A dental crown can be needed for many reasons, such as:

  • Protecting a Tooth – If a tooth is cracked or even decaying, a crown can protect a weak tooth from further damage.
  • Restoring a Tooth – A broken tooth needs a crown to restore the functionality of the tooth.
  • Covering a Filling – Sometimes, if a tooth has a large filling and there is not a lot of tooth left, a crown will be used to cover and support the tooth and filling.
  • Holding a Dental Bridge in Place – A dental bridge is something that dentists use to bridge a gap between teeth when a tooth is missing. A crown may be used to cover this gap.

A Glimpse into the Past: The History of Dental Crowns

According to the American Dental Association, the history of Dentistry goes as far back as 5000 BC, where a Sumerian text discusses dental decay, stating the belief that “tooth worms” were the cause of decaying teeth. 2000 BC marked the death of Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe who is now referred to as the ‘first dentist’. This has been established due to an inscription on Hesy-Re’s tomb after he passed away reading “The greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians. Though there may have been many like him before or during that time, this inscription on Hesy-Re’s tomb is currently the earliest reference we know of where an individual is referenced to as a dental practitioner!

The Transition from Gold to Porcelain: A Dental Revolution

Four thousand years ago, in Luzon, an island in the Philippines, gold was used to modify teeth. Skeletons have been found with gold caps and gold tooth replacements. Evidence suggests that this practice was popular with the chiefs of the time and was a symbol of wealth and power in society. From 166 to 201 AD, the American Dental Association states that the Etruscans were practicing dental prosthetics with the use of gold crowns along with fixed bridgework.

Modern Innovations: The Advent of Durable and Aesthetic Crowns

The first use of crowns may not be exactly what you think. Gold crowns were believed to be used as a symbol of wealth, especially for Etruscan women. These crowns were not used to help repair broken or decayed teeth, nor were they put in by “dentists”. The origins of dental crowns started with goldsmiths who would remove the ‘healthy’ teeth of high-status, wealthy women, and refit and replace them with gold banding. The first dental crowns were not only simply for aesthetics, but they actually had the opposite effect of what we use crowns for today. They were fragile and unable to work as real teeth. Consequently, those who had gold crowns or bridges were unable to eat hard or coarse foods. This was another show of wealth, as it was known that these individuals had personal servants to cook them soft foods that were easy to eat and chew, so as not to ruin their ‘dental work’. Back then, crowns were made up of gold, ivory, bone, and even human teeth. This method persisted until the 19th century when ceramics and porcelain were introduced into dental practices. These materials made crowns much more comfortable and attractive. In 1905, Charles H. Land patented the “jacket crown”, a ceramic crown that fits over a tooth like a jacket. Although the jacket crown was a vast improvement from previous methods, it lacked durability and often ended up cracking. In the late 1900s, porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns were invented, making these natural-looking crowns stronger and longer-lasting than their predecessors. By combining the esthetic of porcelain (a type of ceramic) with the durability of metal, these have become the common crowns we know today, along with pressed-to-metal/pressed-on-metal/pressed-over-metal (PTM/POM) crowns. PTM/POM crowns are similar to traditional porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns, but a very strong outer layer of synthetic dental ceramic (instead of porcelain) encloses the inner metal shell. Additionally, some front teeth crowns are made entirely of porcelain or dental ceramic for a more natural look but with less strength and durability.

Maintaining Your Crown: Tips for Longevity

Some tips for prolonging the life of a crown:

  • Brush Your Teeth – It’s always the first thing on the list but brushing your teeth is the most important way to take care of your teeth and your crowns.
  • Avoid Hard Foods – If you regularly bite into hard foods or ice, your crown is at risk of cracking.
  • Wear a Mouth Guard – If you are prone to grinding your teeth in your sleep or participate in sports, wearing a mouth guard protects your teeth and your crowns.
  • Pick the Best Material for You – There are many choices for which material to use for a dental crown, make sure you talk with your dentist and pick the best material for your teeth.

The Cutting-edge Technology of Columbia Dental

Columbia Dental began making the porcelain fused to metal (PFM) crowns in our own in-house lab as well as sending the prescriptions for the crowns out to other labs to be sent back to us upon completion. It could be a long arduous process. When the pandemic hit us in 2020 and closed the state from March through May, we invested in digital technology to enable the CAD/CAM machines to fabricate the crowns out of a very strong and durable material known as zirconia following the computer-aided program for the crown and then put it in a special oven at very high temperature like putting clay into a kiln to harden and glaze resulting in a very strong crown manufactured to exact fitting, jacketing the tooth. Thus, we are now able to provide the crown on the same day setting it on the tooth enabling you to walk out with the completed prosthesis, in the same visit.

Final Thoughts

Crowns have come a long way, giving a better fit, and stronger and can be made to specification faster at Columbia Dental. If you need a crown, call for your appointment today at 860-645-0111.

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