Updated: Oct 15
A temporary dental crown is meant to be worn over your tooth temporarily in the interim until your permanent crown is ready. Since the permanent one has to be sent out to the dental laboratory to be made, it can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks for it to be complete. The reason why it takes that amount of time is because it is custom made for your mouth. That permanent crown will not fit in anyone else's mouth except yours.
The purpose of the temporary crown is to provide aesthetics, function, and protect the tooth while you wait for the permanent to be made.
Aesthetics. Your dentist has to shave down your tooth in order to fit a new crown over it. We don't want you to walk around with a big hole in your mouth so we make a temporary crown for cosmetic purposes. It will look like you still have a tooth in your mouth so no one can tell that you had a procedure done.
Function. You won't be able to chew as well with a shaved down tooth so a temporary one is made to restore it to what it use to be. This way you have full chewing power and you don't have to avoid chewing on that side in the interim.
Protection. If the tooth that you're having a crown made never had a root canal, it is still alive and will be sensitive without a temporary one on. The temporary is meant to protect the vital tooth from all external stimuli such as cold and hot foods.
In case you were wondering about how the aesthetics were, it pretty much looks exactly like your normal tooth. There are even times where it can look better than what the original teeth look like. Although there are times where your dentist does not want them to look too good because some times the patient does not return for their permanent ones...
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When would you need a temporary dental crown?
There are certain dental procedures which require a temporary crown so if you're getting any of them done you should expect to leave the dentist with a temporary on.
Dental crown. You may need to have a dental crown if you're replacing an old one or have recurrent tooth decay under a large filling. The tooth is definitely still alive so after your dentist finishes shaving it done, you will need to have a temporary to protect it. The reason is because once the numbness wears off, that tooth will be sensitive if there is nothing to protect it.
Veneers. Veneers are typically done on the front teeth so the front teeth will need to be shaved down. While you're waiting for the permanent veneers to come, you don't want to walk around with shaved down front teeth. This is why it is important to have temporary veneers made to cover the front teeth.
Implant crown. Temporary crowns for implants aren't always necessary but they are an option. You may want to consider it if you're getting an implant on a front tooth. If its on a back tooth, you can skip it. The decision is yours to make because the temporary implant crowns are always an additional cost.
After root canal. Normally after you get a root canal, you will be required to get a crown on it afterwards. This means that you'll need to do the crown procedure on the root canal tooth so you'll leave with a temporary one after.
Full mouth reconstruction. If your teeth are all in very bad shaped, you may need to have all of them replaced. For these complex cases, your dentist may put temporary crowns on all of your teeth. You'll actually wear them for a couple of months in order for you to get use to the new bite and shape of the temporaries.
What are temporary crowns made of?
The two most popular temporary dental crown materials are made out of bisacryl composite and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). They're both a form of acrylic, kind of similar to acrylic nails. That means they're not the sturdiest substance in the world because the fake nails break all the time! The temporary crowns also need to be treated with care. It is also why they have the word temporary in their name.
The bisacryl composite material is extruded from cartridges, while the PMMA is made by mixing powder and liquid. After mixing, both materials will give off heat and harden.
How are temporary crowns made?
The temporary crowns are both made chairside but can be done with two different techniques, injection molding and carved by hand.
This method involves first taking an impression (mold) of your teeth. Then your dentist will shave down your tooth and once they're done, you're ready to have the temporary made. Your dentist will extrude the bisacryl composite into the first mold that he took and place it back over your teeth. After about 2 minutes, the mold can be removed and your temporary will be inside of the impression.
Here is a video of how this technique is used to make the temporary:
Carving them by hand
This second technique is a lot more laborious since it takes significantly more time. It also requires a lot more artistic skills since it involves carving a tooth out of a ball of acrylic. This method uses the PMMA, where the clinician molds it over your shaved down tooth. Then they will proceed to carve shape and anatomy into it.
Here is a video demonstrating the skill and artistic talent required to do it:
This man is a LEGEND and is what all dentists should strive to be like. This technique requires significantly more skill and most younger dentists only know how to use the injection molding technique. The advantage for this method is if you don't have a normal tooth to work off of, you can always carve one out of thin air.
How long does a temporary dental crown last?
As per manufacturer instruction, a temporary crown should only last as long as 30 days in the mouth. The reason is because it is not a permanent material and it will start to degrade and break down over time. You're suppose to replace it with the permanent crown once they're ready.
However, in our experience those 30 days are accurate for the bisacryl composite temporaries but the PMMA material can last quite a bit longer. We've seen cases where the patients can be in the PMMA temporary crowns for months at a time.
One of the advantages of the PMMA over the bisacryl is that you can repair them. That means that you don't need a completely new one to be made. You can reuse the existing one by repairing the broken portions.
How do you take care of it?
Taking care of your temporary dental crowns is a very simple process because they don't require any special treatment. All you have to do is pretend like they're a normal tooth so you just brush and floss them.
Brushing. You can use whatever toothpaste and toothbrush that you want on it. A manual brush or an electric powered brush are both okay. They can be brushed and should be brushed because you will accumulate plaque and food on them like any other teeth.
Flossing. You can and should floss the temporaries because you can get food stuck in between your teeth. There is just one caveat that you must follow and that is after you floss through, DO NOT pull the floss back up. What you want to do is pull the floss out to the side instead.
The reason is because if you manage to hook the floss underneath the temporary and you pull up, you can possibly pop the temporary crown off. This isn't an issue with permanent crown because those get glued in with permanent cement. Temporaries on the other hand are glued in with temporary cement so that they can be removed later for the permanent to be fit in.
Can you eat normally?
You can eat and chew with the temporary dental crown because they're made to be used. They're suppose to restore your chewing function while you have them on.
With that being said, you do want to be mindful of what type of food you eat with it. There are certain foods that you should avoid because they can either dislodge it or break the temporary.
Hard foods. Anything that is very hard like nuts, ice cubes, crab legs, and etc are all too hard for the temporary. If you repeatedly try to bite into these types of foods, you will damage and possibly crack it. After all, the temporary materials are all made of some form of acrylic so they aren't the sturdiest in the world. They can withstand normal food like soft bread, pasta, soups, and etc. Just don't eat anything too hard.
Avoid chewing gum. Gum is very sticky and it is recommended that you do not chew gum at all while you have the temporary on. The gum can stick to it and pull it right off since the crown is glued in with temporary glue so it isn't very strong. In fact, there is a dental material that is similar to sticky gum which we use to remove crowns all the time.
Aside from those two important points, you can eat with the temporary on as you normally do. In case you thought they were excessive, we'll have you know that ice cubes and crab legs break normal teeth all the time. There is no reason why they wouldn't crack your temporary.
What if your temporary crown falls off?
It is not unusual for your temporary crown to fall off in the middle of a meal. You could've ate something hard or sticky and that could've pulled it right off of your tooth. The best thing to do would be to contact your dentist right away so that they can glue it back on for you.
Related content: In case you were wondering if there are any situations where you can leave the temporary crown off, we do have an entire article dedicated to that.
However, if you're unable to get an appointment you can try to glue it back on by yourself with a temporary crown glue. You can purchase a temporary tooth filling kit at your local pharmacy which also doubles up as crown cement. This method will work if your temporary appears to be undamaged. Here is how to do it
Rinse temporary crown. Run it under cool water and not hot water, to remove any food or debris that may be on it.
Brush your teeth. Make sure you brush and floss your teeth because you should be gluing the temporary back onto a clean surface and not a dirty one.
Try the temporary back in. Attempt to place the temporary back onto your tooth. It may take you a couple of attempts and if it doesn't fit you may need to rotate it a few times for the correct orientation. This steps allows you to familiarize yourself with the orientation that it is suppose to go back in.
Rinse and dry crown. After you're done trying it in, make sure you clean the temporary once more so that there is no residual saliva on it. A clean surface will glue better.
Place glue in crown. You want to place a THIN layer of temporary cement in the crown. You do NOT want to put too much because the excess glue may prevent the crown from seating down properly.
Bite down gently. You want to bite down gentle a couple of times to make sure that the crown is fully seated. This step also ensures that you have the bite correct.
Clean around temporary. Now take a wet Q-tip and clean the excess glue around the crown as best as you can.
Wait an hour before eating. Now if everything seems nice and stable, you are all good to go. Just make sure you wait an hour before you eat so that you don't pull it off by accident.
If you prefer a video, here is one showing you how to use temporary crown glue:
If your temporary that fell off was damaged or cracked
Sometimes when the temporary crown falls off, they could be damaged or broken in half. If that is the case you won't be able to glue it back on since it is no longer salvagable. Only your dentist will be able to make you a brand new one. This means that your only option would be to try to get an appointment.
What if you swallow it?
There are times where you could be incredibly unlucky and swallow the temporary crown during your meal. If that happens, do not panic because it is not the end of the world. You should definitely notify your dentist but it does not require emergency stomach surgery.
Usually what happens is that you'll just poop it out in the next few days as it works through your digestive track. You can scavenge through your poop everyday to look for it but that is a little be excessive in our opinion. You should just trust that your body will get rid of it.
After all, haven't you swallowed a lot of non-digestible "foods" and objects as a kid like chewing gum? I'm sure you still ended up okay.
Temporary dental crowns are worn in the interim while patients are waiting for the permanent crowns to be made. Since it can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks for the permanent to be made, your dentist does not want you walking around with nothing in your mouth. The temporaries serve to restore your aesthetics, functions, and also to protect the teeth underneath since they may be sensitive.
With that being said, there are quite a few dental offices out there that are moving away from using temporary crowns because they're adopting new technology. This new technology can make the permanent crowns chair-side and on the spot.
It definitely saves you the waiting time for it to come back from the dental lab. The downside is that the appointment does take twice as long while you're waiting for the equipment to mill the permanent crown on the spot.
Perhaps once the cost for the technology comes down and the equipment are able to make it faster, it will be universally adopted?
Author: Written by Dr David Chen, a restorative dentist in long island city.