Your dentist may decide that you need a dental crown if you have a tooth that needs a root canal, or if your tooth is cracked, chipped, or otherwise damaged. When it comes to dental crowns, you have several options to choose from. Some of the most common dental crown materials are gold, porcelain, and zirconia. Take a look at the pros and cons of these different materials to find out which one might be the right choice for you.

Gold Crowns

When you think of gold, you probably think of jewelry or coins, not dental work. But dentistry has been making good use of gold for a long time. There are a few reasons why gold is uniquely suited to dental work. Not only is it a durable metal, it's also gentle on the teeth that it comes in contact with. That means it's less likely to eventually damage the teeth it comes in contact with when you chew or speak, leading to even more dental work. Gold is also a thinner material. That's important because your dentist has to remove some of your enamel to prepare your tooth for a crown, but with gold, they can remove less of the enamel than with some other materials.

Gold has a few downsides, however. It can cause reactions in people who have gold allergies or who are sensitive to metals. For some people, gold is also undesirable from a cosmetic perspective. A gold crown is very visible and won't blend in with your other teeth. On the other hand, some people prefer the look of gold crowns, and others may choose them when it's a less visible back tooth that needs a crown but choose a different material for front teeth.

Porcelain Crowns

If you want a crown that mimics the look of natural teeth, you can't go wrong with porcelain. The material closely resembles the look of enamel and makes for beautiful tooth restorations. Because porcelain is not a metal, it doesn't conduct heat and cold as efficiently is gold, and is less likely to result in a sensitivity to hot or cold foods. Also, porcelain won't produce reactions in metal-sensitive patients.

However, porcelain is a hard material, and unlike gold, it can cause damage to the teeth opposite the crown – especially if you habitually grind your teeth. And while porcelain is hard, it can also be brittle, which means that a porcelain crown might be more susceptible to damage than a gold crown. Porcelain is a good choice for front teeth for patients who prefer a uniform look, but may not the best choice for back teeth that do most of the chewing work. 

Zirconia Crowns

Zirconia-based crowns are usually fused with porcelain, though full zirconia crowns are available as well. Zirconia is a type of crystalline oxide created from the metal zirconium. Zirconia-based crowns can be put in place with glass ionomer cement, which is gentler than the bonding process used with porcelain. They produce a more natural appearance than gold, and a zirconia base can make a porcelain crown stronger and more durable than it would be on its own. It's also less expensive than gold.

On the downside, zirconia is only suitable for full crowns. If you need a veneer or partial tooth restoration, zirconia probably won't work for you. And while allergic reactions to zirconia are rare, patients with severe metal allergies can have reactions to the metal.

If you need a dental crown, make sure to discuss all available options with your dentist. Your dental history and individual preferences will help determine the right crown material for you.