Dentistry is as much an art as it is a science. When most medical procedures are conducted, aesthetics are not at the forefront of the practitioner’s mind; the marks from a needle will heal up over time, and the medication you take is unlikely to affect your looks. When it comes to your mouth, the opposite is true; almost any changes to your mouth can affect your overall appearance – your bite, your teeth, your smile. That’s why when you’re getting a tooth filled, a crown placed, veneers, or almost any other kind of restorative dental work done, you’ll be given a plethora of options for materials. One of the most interesting options is porcelain.
Dental porcelain is a specific type of ceramic, differing somewhat in composition to traditional porcelain. Changes have been made to serve two purpose: reinforcing the material and making it look as much like a natural tooth as possible. The result? Porcelain looks more like natural teeth than any other material available for restorative dental work. There’s a variety of different application for ceramics, from veneers to crowns.
With any dental material, there’s a weighting of aesthetic considerations, practicality, and cost. On the first front, porcelain is hard to beat; as mentioned, it looks more like natural teeth than anything else. For practicality, there are pros and cons to porcelain. Compared to dental composite, porcelain tends to stand up to regular brushing more readily, while the composite can wear down over time and change colour. Compared to metal, conversely, porcelain tends to be more brittle, and can break under sufficient force. For this reason, porcelain tends to only be used on the front teeth, where there’s significantly less force from the bite. In terms of cost, porcelain tends to be one of the pricier options, owing to material and labour costs.
The chief problem with porcelain, it’s fragility, leads to sometimes having to compromise aesthetics for a more durable material. Dentists have sought ways to mitigate this problem, and have come up with a fairly novel solution: porcelain-fused-to-metal. These crowns combine the aesthetics of the porcelain crown procedure with the durability of a metal crown. This allows dentists to place porcelain crowns in circumstances they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. There is a slight aesthetic disadvantage to these crowns, however; in people with thin or receding gum lines, the metal that reinforces the crown can begin to show.
Porcelain crowns are not for everyone. Individuals who suffer from bruxism (excessive grinding and/or clenching of the teeth) will quickly destroy their porcelain apparati. People suffering from malocclusion (misalignment of the upper and lower teeth) may also not be well-suited to porcelain. With any dental procedure, it’s important to discuss all of the options with your dentist; they are your partners in caring for your oral health, and your opinion and desires are of the utmost importance.