Dental Crowns: Zirconia vs PFM (Porcelain)

Sometimes it starts with an innocent bite of hard candy, or perhaps a mouth injury, or just plain old tooth decay, but it always seems to come down to one thing: needing a crown to protect the tooth. Many face this decision every day and must choose from a lot of options. When you need a dental crown, you often discover you have more options than you expected. Often the differences between the options can be quite confusing, or hard to understand. Today there are a number of options available for people looking for a crown. Gone are the days where you could choose between a metal crown and a low-durability porcelain one. You no longer have to sacrifice aesthetic and beauty considerations for durability and strength. If you’re like the average patient today, you want to preserve your natural smile, and traditional porcelains may be too expensive to consider. Zirconia dental crowns offer a cheaper alternative that looks great and lasts for a long time.

What is a PFM Dental Crown?

PFM dental crowns, which is short for porcelain-fused-to-metal, are a type of crown that has a metal base which covers the remainder of the tooth. Then there are added layers of porcelain which are attached to the metal base. PFM dental crowns often leave a metal ring at the bottom of the crown that is quite noticeable, even to lay people. This metal ring is can become exposed when the gums recede. Additionally, The porcelain used can degrade over time, which can give the tooth a dull color inconsistent with the other natural teeth. Aesthetics is a big thing to consider when getting a crown on your teeth. PFM crowns rarely fully deliver in aesthetics. They are generally used for when a crown needs to withstand a lot of pressure or tension that often comes with chewing. Porcelain-fused-to-metal restorations have been used for over 50 years. They have been proven to last a long time, but the porcelain covering may fail, causing the breakage of a large piece of ceramic from the metal substructure. The entire crown may need replacement if the break is too large. Many dentists trust PFM crowns due to their proven track record, however, zirconia-based crowns are becoming more and more popular among patients.

Why choose a Zirconia Dental Crown?

A zirconia crown is the best answer to the problems presented when getting a crown for your back teeth, which do the majority of the chewing. They offer incredible strength and delightfully beautiful aesthetic, often even at a fraction of the cost. Zirconia is a much more durable material than even the metals used in conventional PFM crowns. This eliminates the worry about the crown becoming worn out or breaking over time. There are also other health considerations: the alloys and metals that are present in PFM crowns may cause an allergic reaction in some patients. According to, the metals in the alloys used by PFM crowns can “result in gum tissue that is purplish in appearance, and some patients experience irritation and/or gingival recession”. Zirconia, however, is an extremely safe alternative material, as zirconia works well with the natural chemistry present in your mouth. Tissue in the mouth doesn’t pull away from the zirconia crown, and the gums often appear healthy and pink. Teeth with a PFM crown look somewhat dull in appearance, unlike zirconia and other ceramics. PFM crowns often require more of the healthy tooth to be removed for the crown to have adhered, but because zirconia crowns are so strong, a thinner dental crown can be used. A thinner dental crown means less tooth removal.

What is Zirconia, and why is it better?

Zirconia is a type of ceramic that is very hard and very durable. It is made up of zirconium oxide, and a stabilizer that gives it its strength. It is the hardest known ceramic in the industry and is one of the newer and better ceramics being used. The process of getting a Zirconia crown generally takes only one visit, compared to the multiple visits other porcelains require. In the first visit, the dentist will take an impression of the tooth. Next, a ‘core’ made of zirconia is then milled while in a soft state. Then, it is hardened in a furnace where it shrinks in size and reaches its highest durability. Zirconia is among the most durable material available to dentists, and this means it will last a very long time and endure the stress of chewing easily without breaking or fracturing. Then, the core is often layered with a more natural looking tooth tissue-like porcelain before being cemented in place by the dentist. Finally, any adjustments needed can easily be adjusted by the dentist on the same day as the impressions were taken, with a final cementing taking place once the dentist is sure the fit is perfect for the patient. And, because most dental offices can scan, mill, and cement the implant all in-house, they often charge a lower price for a zirconia dental crown than for other types of porcelain that would take multiple days at a separate lab to process. Another great benefit of zirconia dental crowns is that it can all be done in one session. Zirconia does not allow as much light to pass through it as other porcelains do. However, it still makes a great option for back teeth. Most dentists tend to prefer to use alternate porcelains for front teeth. As more developments continue in the creation of quality zirconia, the overall aesthetic appearance will improve, and can quite possibly be making aesthetics a non-issue. Zirconia gives the benefit of a natural looking smile, with the great combination of a long-lasting material to help prevent further damage to the tooth.

How do I care for Zirconia dental crowns?

Zirconia dental crowns are cared for much like normal teeth. They requiring brushing at least twice a day, as well as flossing at least once a day. Use a toothpaste containing fluoride and a soft-bristle brush. Brush in short strokes, being sure to cover every tooth surface, the chewing surface, the front, and back. Also, brush your tongue to help prevent bad breath.