A new crown or onlay should not be noticeable when you bite or chew. It should be so perfectly comfortable that you don’t even know it’s there. But the occlusion between your upper and lower teeth is very complicated with all the various motions that are involved in chewing, and many dentists are simply not experts in that. There are post-graduate institutes dentists can attend such as the Texas Center for Occlusal Studies, the Pankey Institute, the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, the Dawson Academy, and others. These institutes train dentists in the science of occlusion–how the upper and lower teeth mesh and are supposed to function together. Many dentists attend these institutes, or will attend other solitary courses where the same principles are taught. But many don’t feel that they need this training, that their basic dental school education was enough, and they go through their careers with a fairly rudimentary understanding of occlusion. Without this training, they may not be qualified to do a full-mouth reconstruction, but they can do single crowns or onlays. They may have some patients who experience what you are experiencing–the teeth don’t feel quite right, but for the most part they get by. Yes, in time, over a period of months, you will probably get used to it, and it may cause no further complications. But an occlusal problem like this can in some cases lead to unnatural stresses on the teeth which can contribute to bone loss around the affected teeth. Or in some cases it can be a precipitating factor to TMJ disorder.
Many dentists will simply adjust a new crown or onlay so that it isn’t high. They will ask you to bite on what it called bite registration paper, and that paper will leave marks where the crown or onlay hits prematurely and then will grind down those places. I’m assuming that your dentist has done that basic step and that this onlay isn’t “high”–you can clench together without discomfort–and what is wrong with your bite is more subtle.
What should you do? The best thing would be to get the tooth adjusted so that it is comfortable. No, that shouldn’t damage your new onlay. Such adjustments are fairly common with new dental work, and there should be plenty of thickness in the new onlay to accommodate any necessary adjustments. But if your dentist doesn’t know what the problem is, then I wouldn’t ask him or her to do that, as they could do more harm than good. But then going to another dentist to have this adjusted could be awkward and would involve extra fees.
Here’s what I would recommend. If you’re generally pretty happy with this dentist, then I would let this go and wait a few months to see if this tooth begins to feel like it fits better into your bite. However, I would be leery about having this dentist do another crown or onlay on one of your back teeth.
If you have other points of dissatisfaction with your dentist, this could be a way to find a dentist whom you feel will better meet your needs. Look for a dentist who has publicized his or her training at one of the institutes I mentioned above, ask for a second opinion on this onlay, and if you’re happy with what they do for you, you’ve found a new regular dentist.
– Dr. Hall
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About David A. Hall
Dr. David A. 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 advanced internet marketing for dentists.