Dental caps and dental crowns are synonymous terms. Both are tooth-shaped restorations that fit over the entire visible portion of the tooth. If a tooth gets a chip or crack, for example, a dental cap can reinforce the tooth and improve its appearance.

Virginia H. Ellis, DDS, of Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. in Orinda, California, is an experienced dentist who specializes in tooth restorations, including using dental caps, dental bonding, veneers, and dental implants. They’re all reliable ways to protect a weakened tooth and improve the appearance of your smile. In this blog, Dr. Ellis explains many of the things dental caps can be used for.

The many uses for dental caps

Dr. Ellis may recommend placing a dental cap or crown for a number of reasons, including:

  • To protect a weak tooth from decay
  • To prevent a tooth from breaking apart
  • To hold a tooth with cracked parts together
  • To restore a broken tooth or severely worn tooth
  • To cover and support a tooth with more filling material than tooth
  • To cover a misshapen or severely discolored tooth
  • To sit atop a dental implant (artificial tooth root)
  • To cover the root of a tooth that’s had a root canal

A multitude of materials

Dental caps can be made out of many materials. These materials include:


Dental caps can be made from metals, such as gold, palladium, nickel, and chromium. These caps resist wear better than any other material, withstand biting and chewing forces, rarely chip or break, and require just a small amount of your tooth to be removed. The biggest drawback for metal, though, is the gleaming color, which shouts that they’re not part of your natural teeth. They work best for out-of-sight molars.


Porcelain is a good natural choice for front and back teeth, since it can be tinted to match the surrounding teeth. However, since the cap has a metal interior, you may see darker areas. Furthermore, porcelain is relatively brittle, so it can chip or break easier.


Resin is a less expensive option than other cap materials, making it attractive not just for its tooth color, but also for your wallet. However, resin wears down over time, and it’s more likely to break than porcelain-fused-to-metal, meaning you’ll likely have to replace it at some point.

All-ceramic or all-porcelain

Both of these options are good for front teeth, as they provide the best color match to natural teeth. They’re also good if you have metal allergies. However, they’re not as strong as porcelain-fused-to-metal, and they wear more quickly than the combination option.

Pressed ceramic

Caps made of pressed ceramic have a ceramic inner core with a porcelain exterior. These caps look like natural teeth, and they usually last longer than all-porcelain crowns.

Preparing and placing dental caps

Most dental caps require two separate appointments to complete. At the first visit, Dr. Ellis examines the tooth that’s going to receive the crown, taking X-rays of the tooth and the bone around it. If the tooth is irreparably damaged, she may need to do a root canal before placing the cap. Reasons for a root canal include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Risk of infection
  • Damage or injury to the tooth’s pulp (soft tissue made of nerves and blood vessels)

Next, she files down the top and sides of the tooth that needs the cap, allowing enough space for the cap to fit snugly. If too much of your tooth is missing (from damage or decay), she uses a filling material to “build up” enough tooth structure for the crown to adhere to.

Then, she takes an impression of the tooth and any nearby teeth that will affect the bite. She also makes a note of the appropriate shade (color) the cap should be. Then she sends the impression and color choice to a dental lab, which makes the crown and sends it back. You wear a temporary cap while you wait, which should be about 2-3 weeks.

At the second appointment, Dr. Ellis removes the temporary crown, checks the cap color, and cements the cap to the tooth or artificial implant. If you’ve had a root canal, you won’t need any anaesthetic for the placement, because your tooth won’t feel anything.

If you’re dealing with chips, cracks, or otherwise damaged teeth, a dental cap may be appropriate to restore function and appearance. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.