Dental crowns and veneers represent two ways to address significant damage to teeth. In each case, a dentist is dealing mostly with surface-level problems, such as chips, discolorations, minor misalignments and wear. While both processes are superficially similar, especially to the layperson, the differences do add up quickly.
When applying veneers, a dentist takes off a certain amount of the front and the top of the tooth in order to produce an aesthetically pleasing appearance. One advantage of this approach is that it leaves a significant amount of solid material in the back of the tooth, generally providing a stronger support structure than when dental crowns are put in.
Installing crowns leads to usually cutting off somewhere between 50% and 70% of the tooth, and this approach is normally reserved for when there are serious concerns about the structural stability of the back side of a tooth. Dentists generally want to preserve as much of the existing healthy tooth as possible, ultimately favoring veneers unless dental crowns prove to be medically necessary.
Dentists generally use zirconia to put in crowns while preferring porcelain for veneers. In some instances, gold may also be used for crowns, especially in the back of the mouth. If a patient requires a mixture of crowns and veneers, zirconia is often selected in order to maintain visual consistency. Resin and ceramic are growing in popularity for use with both crowns and veneers.
The decision to use crowns instead of veneers is largely based on two factors. First, the lingual surfaces cannot be worn to the underlying dentin inside the tooth. Second, there should not be any caries.
Veneers are often very thin, frequently not much thicker than a millimeter. Dental crowns tend to be at least two millimeters thick, and enamel almost always has to be removed in order to install them. Crowns are often chosen for use on molars because the additional thickness allows them to hold up better to chewing.
Veneers are typically more expensive, running between $1,000 and $2,000 per tooth. They are expected to last between 10 and 15 years, although staining from coffee, tea, or tobacco may require them to be reconditioned at some point. Dental crowns tend to be cheaper, usually $800 to $1,500 per tooth. Their service times are more variable, ranging from five years to the entire life of the patient.