Is It Possible To Get Decay Under A Crown?
What Is A Crown?
A dental crown is used to rebuild and protect a tooth which has been severely damaged or weakened. It is like a cap that fits snugly over the remaining tooth structure, and is generally made of a very strong dental material: a gold alloy, dental ceramic (porcelain) or a combination of the two. The crown is bonded or cemented to what remains of the tooth’s natural crown. They often last a long time, sometimes decades.
What Is Decay?
Decay is a disease process caused by the bacteria that live in the human mouth: we often refer to this bacterial layer as ‘dental plaque’. Plaque bacteria consume dietary sugars and produce an acidic waste product: this gradually dissolves the enamel, ultimately creating a cavity (hole) which may need to be repaired (filled) by your dentist.
How Can A Crown Get Decay?
Sometimes a tooth with a crown can become decayed- a situation that surprises some people, because of course crowns are made of metal or porcelain and therefore they can’t be dissolved by the acid produced by dental plaque. So a crown itself can’t get decay…
However, the underlying tooth is still vulnerable to the acid attacks. Very often, (especially if the crown isn’t regularly flossed), plaque will accumulate at the intersection of crown and tooth (which is usually at gum level), and it is here where the cavity can begin. Once established, the cavity can grow quickly, burrowing under the crown and softening the tooth beneath.
In worse-case scenarios, the entire tooth can be turned to ‘mush’ under the crown (a scenario which requires removal of the crown and tooth root, leaving a gap that must then be filled with a bridge, denture or implant). Sometimes the decay reaches the nerve of the tooth and causes an abscess (in this scenario, root canal treatment might be an option along with replacement of the crown: however, the tooth may still need to be removed if the damage is too great).
Preventing Decay Under A Crown
If you have a crown, your dentist will probably have recommended that you have X-rays on a regular basis, so that if decay develops it can be located early while it is still small. In many cases, small cavities can be successfully filled without risk to the crown.
As always, prevention is the key! Brush and floss all of your teeth (including those with fillings and crowns) every day: visit your dentist regularly, and be sure to have your dental X-rays regularly too.