Cosmetic Dentistry Blog Cosmetic and General Dentistry Questions Answered

October 1, 2018

Better to do nothing than cheap cosmetic dentistry


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Dear Dr. Hall,
I reside in Henderson, NV. I have four porcelain fused to metal crowns on my front teeth since I was 24 yrs old. In 2015, I wanted to update dental work, I ‘Kör whitened‘ my teeth, which made those crowns look bad. I visited a cosmetic dentist, Dr. Featherstone who you have listed on your website. At that time, my paltry insurance would not co-operate, so I didn’t stay with Featherstone. His billing assistant actually had a credit application there to apply for a loan. Plus, she said, we had to pay in advance, and if there were money left over at the end, they’d refund it. My husband & I slunk out of there, glad to be free of that.

Next, I visited Dr. Michael Wilson, the only other one on your Nevada list. He would not do four, only eight, saying about four, “You won’t like it.” At first I agreed to do it, right then and there, he measured for a laboratory wax-up version, $800. I backed out the next morning, and a week later went and picked up the model. He was decent about it, and we left the door open.

Well, from there, I went to my general dentist, Dr. F. Those original crowns from when I was young were big and long and gave me a big smile, in every picture all my life. Now, Dr. F’s version are short, greenish (I picked the wrong shade). His words were, “I’ll make sure you get the teeth that you want.” But, he couldn’t please me, and ended up giving it to his assistant. I mean, it was excruciating, going over it again and again. You finally just settle. These teeth are too short, when I wake up in the morning with mouth agape, you can’t even see any teeth (thus, it makes you look like an old person). She remarked, “Oh, you probably are looking on the internet, and expect these perfect teeth.” Yes, exactly. I had your examples and pictures in hand.

Anyway, here I am, three years later, still not sure where to turn. Thank you for letting me vent. I live with this. My husband raises his voice at just the very mention of it.

Thank you very much.
– LaRae from Nevada

LaRae,
Quite the story you have.

I’m confident that either Dr. Featherstone or Dr. Wilson would have done a beautiful job for you. I’ve seen work from both of them and have interviewed them both. It’s too bad that they were too expensive for you. Your case illustrates a point I often make—if you can’t afford quality cosmetic dentistry, it’s better to do nothing and save up to have it done right than to go cheap. If the first dentist who did the Kör bleaching knew what he was doing and was honest with you, he would have told you that the crowns wouldn’t bleach and the results would commit you to re-doing the crowns. It would have been good to have had a complete plan from an expert cosmetic dentist from the start.

About Dr. Wilson wanting to do 8 crowns instead of 4—we see this where good cosmetic dentists will disagree on how to proceed with a case and in some cases will turn down a case unless they can do it the way they think will turn out the best. When I was practicing, I was more like Dr. Featherstone where I might compromise on a case because a patient didn’t want to spend more to get the “perfect” result.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

September 22, 2018

A crown or a veneer on a front root canal tooth?


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Hello Doctor Hall. About 2 years ago I had a root canal on a front tooth. I had a general dentist do the root canal. It wasn’t painful and I was very happy. He wanted to put a veneer on the tooth for a very low price. But, I decided not to do the restoration at that time.

I didn’t realize that lack of blood flow to the tooth would make it change color and about a year ago it started to change. I eventually had a porcelain crown put on by another general dentist. She filed down the tooth to a small fang and it really bothered me at the time. So far, the crown is stable. But I know these things don’t last forever. I just want to know if I was duped by the second dentist who did the crown rather than a veneer? Thank you for your time.
Gary from Florida

Gary,
I have a couple of points in response to your question.

First, about the choice of a crown versus a veneer. The simple answer that is taught in dental school to the question, “How do we restore a tooth after a root canal treatment?” is, “Do a crown.” Dental schools really don’t get into doing veneers much. So I wouldn’t say that the second dentist “duped” you—she just did what she was probably taught. But yes, it can be unsettling to have your front tooth ground down to a stub in preparation for a crown.

Here’s the explanation for that. Most teeth, when they need a root canal treatment, have an extensive amount of tooth structure missing and they really need a crown. I take it, from your initial decision to not do a restoration, that your tooth did not have extensive decay or a large break. Maybe it was just bumped in an accident. Also, after a root canal, a tooth tends to become more brittle and subject to fracture. A crown helps protect against fracture of the tooth.

But there is a difference here in the needs between a front tooth and a back tooth. Back teeth have chewing surfaces and cusps, and when you bite down, the pressure on the cusps tends to push them apart. Thus, when a back tooth breaks, it will likely split between the cusps. A crown will prevent that type of break.

Front teeth are subject to different stresses. There is no chewing surface, and the stress on a front tooth is almost all lateral. When you bite together, the lower front teeth push forward on the uppers, and the upper front teeth push backward on the lowers. Also, if you get hit in the face, the impact on the upper front teeth will be a lateral impact. Thus the most likely break of a front root canal tooth is snapping off at the gumline. A crown preparation, which will involve taking off about a millimeter of tooth structure all the way around, will actually weaken a tooth against this type of stress.

Here is a photograph of a crown preparation for a front tooth. This is a very conservative preparation. Most dentists will be more aggressive than this in removing tooth structure. But even with this conservative preparation, you can see that the natural tooth is going to be much stronger in resisting breaking off because of the thicker neck of the tooth.

photograph of a smile, showing the patient's left front tooth ground down and prepared for a crown

A veneer would leave the tooth much stronger. To prepare a tooth for a porcelain veneer, a dentist has to only remove about half a millimeter of enamel, and from the front of the tooth only. Below is a photograph of two front teeth prepared for porcelain veneers.
two front teeth, prepared for porcelain veneers, showing about half a millimeter of enamel removed

So why don’t most general dentists do veneers on front root canal teeth? With a much thinner layer of porcelain, it requires more skill on the part of both the dentist and the laboratory technician to block out the darker color of the underlying tooth. Most general dentists really don’t know how to do that.

Moving on from that point, I also wanted to make a comment about the discoloration of the tooth. It isn’t widely known that the source of the vast majority of the discoloration of a front root canal tooth is not the tooth drying out, but it comes from the root canal filling materials that are used inside the tooth. When I did a root canal treatment on a front tooth, I would clean out all the root canal filling materials from the inside of the crown of the tooth, place a white fiberglass post down into the root to strengthen the tooth, and then seal the opening I had made into the tooth using composite filling material. With that type of treatment, it could be five or ten years before any discoloration would set in and the tooth would need a veneer.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

September 21, 2018

Gap between my crown and my bridge


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I have a space between my 2 front teeth, however one of my front teeth is a crown and the other front tooth is part of a bridge. Can the gap between my front teeth be closed with Lumineers or any other procedure or would I have to get a new bridge and crown, possibly all in one structure to close the gap?
– Laura from Nevada

Laura,
Your question prompts me to ask a question of my own: Why did the dentist who made the crown and/or the bridge leave a gap between your front teeth? The easy way to fix this would have been to make them correctly in the first place.

At this point, yes, you pretty much need to have probably both of them re-made—depending on how big the gap is. Both front teeth need to be the same size—you don’t want to close the gap from just one side by making one side larger.

this microetcher has a long nozzle with a button on it, and at one end a small clear plastic bottle as a reservoir

A Micro-Etcher

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But there is a procedure you might want to try before doing that. There are ways to bond composite to porcelain, and you could start with trying that—treating this as a dental bonding case. If the dentist has what is called a micro-etcher, which is a small sand-blasting handpiece, he or she could micro-etch the porcelain surfaces next to the gap. This would be followed by etching with a hydrofluoric acid gel and then priming the surface with a silane coupling agent. A bonding resin would then be applied followed by composite bonding material to match the shade of the crown and the bridge. The composite would be shaped and polished. In theory, this should work. However, my experience with bonding to porcelain was that after a few months, we would see staining along the margin between the composite and the porcelain. But it could be worth a try to try to avoid the expense of a complete re-do of your front teeth.
I would think it goes without saying that you need an expert cosmetic dentist to do this, such as we recommend on this website.

The company that makes Lumineers, a few years ago, tried to promote the idea of bonding Lumineers over the top of porcelain crowns, but I strongly discourage that. You would get the same risk of staining at the margins, and would spend the same amount of money as you would spend just re-doing the case completely. Click the link to read more about the problems with that approach.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

September 6, 2018

Matching the color on a crown for a front tooth


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Hi Dr. Hall,
I had a root canal done on my front tooth over 10 years ago. In the past few years I had noticed a blue discoloration at the top of the tooth. After trying internal bleaching, my dentist ended up doing a crown.

The first crown that came back from the lab looked very white. He redid it. The next tooth, which is in my mouth now, looks better but doesn’t match the other front tooth. The dentist permanently cemented it in, but when I got home and took some selfies I was unhappy with how unnaturally white it looks.

The dentist will give it another try but my question is — should I let him try again or go to someone else who specializes in cosmetic dentistry? I now live in Princeton, NJ and my dentist is in Brooklyn. Cost is a factor.
Thanks,
Ronnie

Ronnie,
Doing a crown on a single front tooth is a tricky procedure. The slightest variation in color between the two front teeth is usually very noticeable. And it isn’t just the overall color—any tooth has multiple colors in it. Even expert cosmetic dentists will often have multiple try-ins before they get the crown to match perfectly. When I was in practice, I charged about 40% more for crowning a single front tooth because we would typically send it back to the lab three or four times until we got it perfect and I would charge the extra fee because of all the extra appointments. Dentists with poor cosmetic dentistry skills sometimes ask patients to crown both front teeth in order to get the color right.

That your dentist would think that the crown would look right after one or two trips to the lab shows either inexperience or a low level of commitment to excellent cosmetic dentistry. I’m not meaning to imply condemnation with that comment because that is typical of the overwhelming majority of dentists—maybe 98% of them. So yes, if you want this done so that your two front teeth match perfectly, you need to raise your sights and go to an excellent cosmetic dentist such as we recommend. There are several excellent ones within reasonable driving distance of Princeton, say 15-30 miles.

However, depending on how big a factor cost is for you, and if your dentist is willing to work with you to get this right for no extra charge, you may want to stick with this dentist to save the money of having another dentist start over with you. And, I would add, if you are willing to make several more trips back to Brooklyn. To help the process, you or the dentist should get hold of a good digital camera that is capable of taking a clear photograph of the new crown in place next to your natural tooth under outside light, such as right next to a window. That will go a long way toward helping the ceramist pin down the right color. And be sure that the crown is only temporarily cemented until you have seen it under various lighting conditions.

If you want perfection—a crown so natural that you can’t distinguish it from the real tooth next to it—you need the expert cosmetic dentist. But if you are willing to accept some compromise of that ideal in order to save money—try letting your dentist have some more tries to get this closer.
– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

April 23, 2018

What to do about gray crowns


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Hi Dr. Hall,

Due to a recent fall, I broke my 2 front teeth as well as the one to the left of my front teeth. I had 3 root canals and 3 porcelain crowns placed. I’ve had 2 attempts as the first permanent set were off in color, too big and thick. The 2nd permanent set matched in color and were closer in size and thickness to my natural shape. After they were permanently cemented they all had a grey hue close to the gumline on the tooth. The dentist has reluctantly agreed to redo my crowns stating he would try to make sure the core is as white as possible. I’m not sure what to think or if he can even fix the issue because he did say he couldn’t promise this issue would be resolved? What are your suggestions? Thank you!
– Nancy from San Antonio

Nancy,
Your problem is simply that your dentist doesn’t know enough about cosmetic dentistry.

One of the issues that family dentists have the most trouble with is color, so the problem he is having is not unusual.

If you have two or more crowns on your front teeth, this is a pretty simple color task for an expert cosmetic dentist. The fact that these crowns were too big and thick and the color was off on the first try makes me worry about the level of skill here. On the second try, having them be too gray at the gumline is not a great confidence builder, either. This isn’t a difficult situation. My advice would be to be fussy. It is possible to get the color and shape exactly right and in the right hands, no one should be able to tell that these are crowns on your front teeth and not your real teeth. Don’t settle for anything less than that.

You’re not giving me any clinical details about the types of crowns we’re dealing with, and there are several possibilities for getting this grayness that you’re seeing. Let me make an assumption of what I think is the most probable scenario. My best guess is that your dentist is using pure ceramic crowns of one type or another with a metal post and core to reinforce the inside of the tooth, and the gray color of the metal is showing through the translucent ceramic. There are several ways to deal with this. If I were doing your case, I would have used a fiberglass post and a composite core that was close to the color of your natural teeth. That’s the easiest way to get a natural translucency to the crowns. If we’re stuck with the metal core, then what I would have done would have been to bond an opaque layer on top of the metal to block out the metallic color and then bond the crown on top of that opaque layer. Another option would be to give clear instructions to the laboratory technician about the color and extent of the metal core, and let the technician incorporate opaquing into the crown.

The problem with many family dentists is that they don’t understand translucency and the impact of interior colors on the external appearance of the tooth.

Your case bothers me, though. You’ve had this accident, and you would think that you should be able to go to your family dentist and he would know enough to fix this. Or, if he didn’t, that he would know enough to refer you to someone with more expertise in cosmetic dentistry. But that is the state of cosmetic dentistry in America. Dental academia trivializes cosmetic concerns and the powers that be in the profession are adamant that cosmetic dentistry isn’t a legitimate specialty. If there were a higher level of respect in the profession for aesthetic skills, there would be more inclination to either refer these cases to a specialist, or maybe to train general dentists better in these color skills and you wouldn’t have situations like yours. Your case doesn’t require a high level of aesthetic skills—only a moderate level. The fact that your dentist has missed this twice and now is unsure that he can fix the color shows a fundamental lack of understanding of basic color management.

Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

February 22, 2017

Should I get a radiolucent crown or a radiopaque crown?


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Hi Dr. Hall,

I came across your blog and read your very interesting response to a writer with root canal issues. I, too, seek your advice.

I had my lateral and central incisor teeth filed down for a bridge (missing the two teeth in-between). I changed my mind from having the bridge when I learned about some negatives surrounding it, and went back to the partial denture. I have been wearing the temporary crowns for almost 6 months now.

I ended up having to do a root canal on the central incisor and I have been told that the lateral will also need a root canal because it has been exposed for too long and I am getting sensitivity to cold. I am not keen on doing another root canal.

I read about pulp cap in your blog. That’s interesting. Does this need a special dentist to perform?

Could you also tell me which dental crown is radiolucent? I was interested in the eMax crowns (lithium disilicate) but I read that it is radiopaque and as such will block xrays and disallow evaluation of the tooth underneath over time. Could you please tell me if this is so? And if this is so, could you tell me which is the best material for my now vulnerable teeth. I have a lot of anxiety that I might lose them.

Thanks very much for your response.

Marcia

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Dear Marcia,

I hope that you aren’t trying to micro-manage your dentist and make all these clinical decisions for him or her. One thing I worry about in providing all this dental advice is that patients, thinking now that they are armed with sufficient knowledge, will try to tell the dentist what materials to use or will obsess over these decisions. I hope you’re not doing that. When you tell me that you have been wearing temporary crowns for 6 months and have all this anxiety I want to tell you to let go and let your dentist make these decisions. Do the best you can with the knowledge that I provide here to find a dentist you can trust and then trust him or her.

It sounds like you’ve been stewing over these decisions, wearing these temporary crowns for so long, and now one of the teeth became hypersensitive and needed a root canal and another is getting that way. It surely is time to let your dentist finish your case.

You’ve latched onto this question about whether a particular crown material is radiolucent or radiopaque and have decided that you want a radiolucent crown. But you don’t know enough to be getting into the weeds this deeply. There are a number of factors that go into selecting a material for a crown, and you have a very imperfect understanding of even this one factor.

But since you asked, let me explain a little about this issue.

Radiolucency of Crown Materials.

The only type of crown that is radiolucent is a plastic crown, which would be used as a temporary crown. A radiolucent crown is one that doesn’t block the x-rays at all. So yes, you are right, that with the x-rays you can see right through it. The problem is that decay is also radiolucent. Decay would tend to start at the margin of the crown, and with a radiolucent crown it would be impossible to tell for sure what is decay and what is just part of the crown.

But, you say, a radiopaque crown blocks the x-rays and so you couldn’t see under it. Here’s where oversimplification is getting you into trouble. There are many degrees of radiopacity. The ideal would be to have a crown that is partly radiopaque, just like tooth structure is. It doesn’t block the x-rays completely, only partially, so you can see through it to a certain extent but it doesn’t look just like decay.

To illustrate, here is an x-ray of a patient showing four types of crowns plus composite filling materials, and you can see the variations in radiopacity. None of the restorative materials used are radiolucent, for the reason I gave above—radiolucency causes the most complications for diagnosis.
radiolucent and radiopaque crowns
On the upper, starting with the canine on the left, we have a composite filling that is partly radiopaque. Next, on the premolar, is an eMax crown. Yes, it is radiopaque, but it has a very helpful partial level of radiopacity that makes it easy to tell what is going on with the tooth. Next, on the first molar, is a porcelain fused to metal crown. True, you can’t see through it, but you can see what is happening on the margins, which is where you would expect recurrent decay to start. Finally, on the second molar, is a gold crown.

On the lower, the premolar has a composite filling, the first molar has a CEREC crown which is made of lithium disilicate, and the second molar has a gold crown.

My preference for crowns on second molars is gold, even though it is totally radiopaque. I have heard many dental educators and researchers state the same preference. I’m not going to go into all the reasons here for that choice. I only want to make the point that this radiopacity is not a simple cut-and-dried issue nor is it the only factor to be used in the choice of a crown material.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

December 26, 2016

Ugly e.max crowns are too thick


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Good morning, Dr. Hall.
My question: Can adhesive-bonded e.max crowns be safely removed without breaking the natural tooth which is already fragile?
History: I recently had the front six teeth re-crowned with e.max. The four front teeth have now been crowned for the 5th time (all by different dentists). I was happy with the first crowns I had, but after 15 years they needed to be replaced. I have yet to find a dentist who can replicate the smile I had before. I’m now stuck with e.max crowns that are thick and bulky with dark showing around the gum over my central incisor. My dentist said he would replace them but I know with each manipulation, I am risking the possibility of losing a tooth (or teeth).
My dentist said he made the e.max crowns thicker because my gums were thick (the gums have buttressed from years of clenching). He has now asked I have crown-lengthening and have some if the bone removed before replacing crowns.
I am so afraid of losing my teeth and having to have dental implants but I so want my old smile back.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
– Carol from Alabama

Carol,
If I’m getting this straight, your dentist gave you thick crowns because your gums are thick. If that is his true reasoning, I wouldn’t let him re-do your case. There is a gross misunderstanding of esthetic and functional principles here. Thick crowns will cause the gums to become inflamed and puffy, so this has the potential to be a functional disaster. Plus there is no aesthetic reason for your crowns to be made thick in this situation. The dentist should make sure there are natural contours to the teeth as they come out of the gum.

Let me explain.

I found this photograph showing thick crowns with puffy gums what happens when crowns are too thick. It creates a protected space where the crown meets the tooth and in that protected space, gum-disease causing bacteria multiply freely. Microscopic food particles will get trapped there, it is impossible to clean effectively, with resulting gum disease and puffy gums.

After almost 40 years of experience in dentistry, I must say I have never heard this aesthetic principle taught or even mentioned, that thick gums mean you need to do thick crowns. Rather, what I have heard is that you always need to have a natural emergence angle where the crown meets the tooth. You should not be able to feel any bulges as you run an explorer up from the root of the tooth onto the crown – the contour should be straight and smooth.

Now, as to your actual question about removing e.max crowns. These crowns are made of a very tough material – lithium disilicate – which makes them difficult to remove. And you say they were bonded on. The only way to get these off is to grind them off. Your dentist will need a supply of diamond burs to methodically grind these off your teeth. If the dentist is good and knows what he or she is doing, there should be no damage to your existing teeth. That isn’t a problem.

But I wouldn’t trust your current dentist to do that very carefully. His idea about thick crowns doesn’t show much care for precision in knowledge, which would make me worry about his being clinically careful. I would go to one of the dentists on our recommended list–I’m confident any one of them would do a great job for you here in carefully removing the existing crowns and replacing them with a beautiful smile.

Besides the functional mistake in your new smile, there was a serious aesthetic mistake, and I want to say something about that, too. No good cosmetic dentist would have ever bonded these crowns onto your teeth without a test-drive first, either duplicating the new smile in plastic so you could wear that as a temporary smile makeover, or temporarily cementing the new crowns, so he and you could make sure that you love this new smile before it was bonded permanently.

I hope this is helpful.

Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

December 9, 2016

Should my dentist grind on my porcelain crowns?


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Dr. Hall,
Earlier this year I got porcelain crowns on my 2 front teeth. One came loose and fell off. I had it “cemented” back on at the dentist & she ground down the porcelain to correct the bite after it was placed. Less than a week later the back side of my crown broke off where the bite adjustment had been made. What do you suggest? Should porcelain crowns ever be ground on or does this weaken them?
– Cheri from Minnesota

Cheri,
When you get a new porcelain crown, it isn’t uncommon for the dentist to have to adjust the crown to your bite, which is done by grinding on it some.
Having said that, something isn’t right about your experience here. Here are the three things that trouble me:

• First of all, one of the crowns came loose. This isn’t something that should be happening to a permanently cemented crown. Something wasn’t done right for a new crown to be falling off that soon.
• Second, the bite should have been adjusted when the crown was first placed. This is strange that the bite has to be adjusted after it is recemented. Something went wrong in the recementation process. The recemented crown must not have gotten back on straight for it to require new adjustments.
• And third, of course, you had the back of the crown break off. This wouldn’t happen unless the porcelain was ground so much as to be dangerously thin.

The fix is to have this crown replaced. But I would go somewhere else for this. I have real concerns about your current dentist being able to get this right. Oh, and she should compensate you for having to do this.

– Dr. Hall

For information on why crowns fall off, please see my earlier post, “The main reason your crown probably fell off.”

Do you have a comment or a question or anything else to add? We’d love to hear from you. Enter your comment below.

Click here to ask Dr. Hall a question of your own.

About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

July 18, 2016

Would I let a rough hygienist clean my teeth?


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Dr. Hall,
All of my top teeth (except the molars) have porcelain crowns. I was advised years ago not to have a Cavitron used to clean the crowns. I recently had my teeth cleaned by a new hygienist who became very upset when I asked her not to use the machine. She scaled my crowns with so much force that it was painful and I really worried she would break them. The 4 center teeth do not have a metal lining behind the porcelain and I treat them very carefully. Which is the lesser of two evils – the Cavitron or a brutal hygienist scaling my porcelain crowns with hand instruments? Could there really be that much plaque on a porcelain surface?
– Elizabeth from Massachusetts

Elizabeth,
I’m getting a lot of these Cavitron questions lately. I think that’s because their use is getting more popular with dental hygienists.

The Cavitron by itself won’t hurt your porcelain crowns or other porcelain restorations. See my earlier post on this: Is the Cavitron safe for use with porcelain veneers? We used to give a blanket prohibition against using the Cavitron with porcelain crowns or veneers, but our observation of the care being used by dental hygienists has caused us to soften that. Used properly, there is no risk of damage from the Cavitron to crowns or any other restorations.

What bothers me most about what you told me is that your hygienist became upset when you asked her not to use the Cavitron. I talked to my own hygienist about this Cavitron issue and she said she gets a number of requests from patients to not use the Cavitron in certain places, or other requests, and she honors those requests. This haughty attitude and lack of sensitivity to the patient is not good. It’s kind of like you are in the way of her doing her job. She doesn’t seem to connect that you are paying for her services. Hygienists and dentists get a number of special requests like this from patients, and I believe the proper response is to honor those when possible. Yes, you may have made more work for her, but serving the patient is her job.

To answer your question, yes, the hygienist can do damage even without the Cavitron. Heavy scaling can nick the margins. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t let this hygienist touch my teeth any more, whether she used a Cavitron or a hand scaler or a toothpick. If that meant switching dentists, I would do it, and let the dentist know the reason. From what you’ve told me, I have serious questions about how much she cares about her patients, which for me is the first requirement of quality care. In rough hands, a Cavitron can do significant damage not just to restorations but even sometimes to your teeth.
– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

July 12, 2016

She’s reluctant to do the second half of her full-mouth reconstruction


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Dear Dr. Hall,
I have taken great comfort in the information you provide and the honest, intelligent, accessible manner in which you provide it.

I am 37 years old and had my entire lower arch redone with crowns and veneers over a year ago. My dentist is a cosmetic dentist listed on your website. She recommended a full smile makeover for my worn teeth. After years of clenching and grinding (I didn’t wear a nightguard until recent years), I was having a lot of sensitivity on my molars and my dentist said that I had a collapsed bite.

I know that my dentist did a good job, but the whole process was very hard for me emotionally. I never wanted “perfect” teeth and I do miss some of the quirkiness of my originals. Even though I went for a “darker” shade (m2 instead of m1), I still feel they are a bit white for me. Also, I have had a bit of gum inflammation, which I never had before. My dentist is having me treat this with baking soda and peroxide and may eventually do some procedure she thinks will help.

My dilemma is now that I am torn about doing the top teeth. My dentist is pushing for it. And indeed my top teeth are very worn, darker in color and contrast with the bottoms. However, my gums are very healthy on top and I have no pain at all in the teeth. I know that I cannot whiten the tips because I did Zoom whitening years ago and now I think my teeth are too worn and it may cause sensitivity.

I am agonizing over this decision and would be very grateful for any advice you might have.

My dentist seems to feel that my teeth will be better off if she completes the whole mouth, but I am so hesitant to go through such a big procedure when I not in pain anymore. The esthetic discrepancy does bother me a little, but maybe not enough to get this major work done.

Thank you for any words you have for me!!

Best,
Anna from Connecticut

Anna,
It’s hard for me to give a definitive answer as to what you should do without seeing your case and knowing everything that is going on dentally. But I’ll see if I can be of some help with some guiding principles.

There are points to be made in favor of both options–doing something and not doing anything.

First, I am not in favor of half-mouth dental reconstructions. I don’t know what the crowns on your lower teeth are made of, but most ceramics are somewhat abrasive to natural teeth. Some of the newer ceramics are very kind to natural dentition, but most of them will wear natural dentition more than they would otherwise wear, which can lead to sensitivity and other problems. You may want to ask your dentist about this, if this is an issue in your case.

The original problem was excessive wear of the teeth. I’m sure that wasn’t confined to the lower teeth–they both must have worn equally. And now your upper teeth are continuing to wear down. So it appears to me that your original problem is now half solved, and you need to finish the treatment.

Having said that, crowning and veneering all the teeth is a very aggressive step, and if you aren’t completely sold on the benefits, my inclination would be to leave well enough alone.

On the issue of the “quirkiness” of your natural teeth, a masterful smile makeover will include some “quirkiness.” If you discussed that with your dentist, I’m sure she could take care of that so that it wouldn’t be an issue. Knowing that is your preference, I think that most ceramists would love the opportunity to put some quirky features into your smile. My ceramist wanted to do that, but the barrier to doing that is that there are some obsessive patients who fuss over anything that they perceive as an imperfection in the smile makeover. I would want the smile to look natural–they would want all the teeth to be “perfect.” I would try to persuade them to have some imperfections in the teeth, but in the end the patients would get what they wanted.

If the only problem you need to fix is the color, I would do whitening. You mentioned that you worry that you would have too much sensitivity, that you had Zoom whitening before and are reluctant to do that now. However, there are a number of other options for whitening the teeth besides Zoom. Zoom, because of the light, is more harsh than other options. Kör whitening is gentle yet very effective. There is also Nite White or Day White, Boost, Opalescence, and other systems, all of which are also more gentle than Zoom.

On the issue of gum inflammation around the lower teeth–I’m assuming that is around the crowns. That is a factor that should be taken into consideration. You could be having a sensitivity reaction to the ceramic in the crowns or it could be something else. I would try to pin that down before doing the uppers. One excellent option could be doing porcelain onlays on the upper teeth rather than full crowns. Onlays stop short of the gumline so that gum inflammation shouldn’t be an issue. If not porcelain onlays, then porcelain crowns that only go very slightly into the gingival sulcus or even stop at the gingival margin. There should be a way to avoid this on the upper.

And then, about the overall result. I had a number of patients who were hesitant about moving forward with smile makeovers and had some misgivings about the procedure before starting. But once it was done and they saw themselves in the mirror with their beautiful smile and felt that great sense of confidence to where they couldn’t stop smiling, I don’t believe anyone would have ever given a second’s consideration to going back to the way they were. It was always a positive, life-changing experience. You mention that the esthetics of your smile bothers you some now. I would fix that.

I hope this is helpful.

Dr. Hall

Do you have a comment or a question or anything else to add? We’d love to hear from you. Enter your comment below.

Click here to ask Dr. Hall a question of your own.

About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

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