Porcelain Crowns

porcelain crown

This Chicago patient wanted “natural coloration but just a little bit brighter”, and perfect symmetry with the shapes of her new smile. She had bad crowns before that looked like “fake caps”. She did not want black lines at the gumline or opaque, monochromatic crowns that would signal “Fake” to her friends. When she was done with treatment, she had a radiant beaming smile. Many friends noticed a change in her; some just thought that she looked well rested while others thought that she had been exercising and had lost weight! When the dentistry appears believably natural, it will keep people guessing what you did. Every upper tooth visible is a pressed lithium disilicate ceramic porcelain crown.

Crowns are often used to restore a tooth to beauty and full function when a substantial amount of tooth structure has been lost due to breakage, decay, or a large old filling that has failed.  Dr. Fondriest prefers to use all-porcelain or all-ceramic versions over those made with metal.  The all-ceramic version can be more aesthetic and will never develop an ugly black line at the gum line caused by the metal crown margin showing.  Ceramic restorations can be made thinner thus requiring less tooth reduction. These restorations can be made to closely match the light transmitting properties of natural teeth and will not stain or change color. Ceramics are more biocompatible than most metals which may reduce the potential for gum recession and lead to a more long-term healthy result.


E Max

E Max is the newest cosmetic porcelain.  It is both strong and has true-to-nature shade behavior and excellent light transmission for highly esthetic solutions.  This is Dr. Fondriest’s new preferred ceramic system for anterior teeth.  EMax is both biocompatible and has the long term wear characteristics like that of enamel. It can be used for minimally prepared veneers or crowns to as thin as 0.2mm.

E Max is ideal for fabricating single-tooth restorations or complete smile makeovers. This ceramic two layer system (pressed coping and custom stacked superficial layer) produces highly esthetic results and is 2.5 to 3 times stronger than other glass-ceramic systems used today.

E Max Monolithic

When a more contemporary version of an all porcelain crown or veneer chips or fractures, it is likely that the break occurred in the superficial veneering porcelain. It is the veneering porcelain that is the weak link in all of these systems. E Max Monolithic does not have a veneering porcelain. Unlike the other systems, the EMax HT (high translucency) coping material can be used without a veneering layer due to  improved optical characteristics.  This coping material can be used alone to create beautiful and incredibly strong restorations.  This restorative option is ideal for patients who are nightime bruxers or tooth grinders.


porcelain crowns

12 Empress anterior teeth were restored to create “the very specific look” that this Highland Park patient wanted. She insisted that her new dental crowns would have the same light transmitting properties of natural teeth.

These beautiful restorations can be produced with excellent fit and the characteristics of natural teeth. Empress has two layers; a base coping made of medium-strength pressed ceramic, and a highly customizable superficial glass layer  that can be hand stacked and fired on top of the supportive pressed base coping.  With only modest strength, this restorative material should never be used in high occlusal risk situations.


Many cosmetic dentists feel that this is the most beautiful porcelain.  This custom stacked monolithic ceramic (one layer or no supportive base coping) is difficult to work with and requires the technician to have very high skills.  Only high end dentists will use this ceramic system.  These restorations are very technique sensitive to place and are more costly to produce in the laboratory.


Procera is a two layer system.  They are made with  an aluminum oxide base coping that is custom milled with CAD technology and a superficial stacked feldspathic layer that is used to make the restoration attractive and lifelike.  Due to the opacity of the coping, the tooth needs to have a more aggressive preparation to allow enough veneer thickness to mask the bright white coping.  These restorations can also be beautiful when crafted by a master ceramist.


Zirconium onlays, caps or crowns are similar in design to Procera with a two layer system. This porcelain option is used commonly for anterior bridges and implant abutments.  Zirconium itself has a limited capability of being bonded and should not be used for veneers.  In addition, the high opacity and unnatural whiteness of the strong zirconium base coping can require more tooth reduction to give room to conceal it with a thicker veneering porcelain layer. There are many brands of this product and some have higher clinical success rates.

Should zirconia crowns be used for front teeth?

Zircomium crown technology is still developing.  The optical characteristics are not great now but newer options are coming to market with more translucency and esthetic attractiveness.

porcelain crowns

Sometimes people just want to look younger to match how they feel. Is your 87th birthday a reason to do your front teeth? This Northbrook patient thought so. Happy birthday Helen!

Do zirconium crowns and/or onlays break?

Yes, everything can break including zirconium and natural teeth. A zirconium base coping is extremely strong, in fact much stronger than natural tooth structure.  Due to the lack of natural optical characteristics, the coping must be covered for esthetic parity. When dentists have limited knowledge of occlusion or the patient grinds their teeth, it is common for restorations to break. Zirconium is attractive to some dentists due to a false impression of superior strength. The veneering porcelain has the same low shear strength as for all of the other porcelain 2 layer systems and is the weak link rendering it no stronger than any of the other systems. The exception is when no veneering porcelain is used. Due to heavy marketing directly to dentists promising superior strength, many practitioners are choosing base coping only (monolithic) zirconium restorations.  These restorations can be very abusive to the opposing dentition and exhibit low esthetic quality.  Also they can be very difficult to remove without hurting the underlying tooth. No matter what you hear or read, all dental restorations have a finite life span and eventually need replacement. 100% Zirconium inlays and onlays are not recommended.

Cerec and Sirona

Cerec and Sirona technology is becoming more popular in average dental offices because it cuts out the lab technician.  The brand names Cerec and Sirona are “in-the-dental-office” CAD milling machines. Monolithic ceramic blocks are milled into onlays, veneers or for full coverage.  Monolithic means one color.  No natural tooth is one color.  These restorations can be created in one visit and are strong but they can only be customized by using surface stains.  Surface staining creates opacity and metamerism and is not life like.  Surface stains wear off over time.


Strength, esthetics, the abrasiveness of the material against the opposing teeth, and the skills of the dentist. There is no single porcelain choice that is clearly superior for all situations.  For example, feldspathic or E Max HT (high translucency) are better choices when avoiding black lines at the gumline. Many cosmetic dentists will have several types that they use for different situations. There are subtleties in working with all of these ceramic materials that need to be mastered by the dentist and the ceramist to produce the most beautiful result.

What do Porcelain Crowns Cost?

Like all commodities, costs vary with the time, expertise, and materials used to create them.  Depending on the quality level of the dental office and ceramist (who actually fabricates the crown and charges the dentist directly for his/her service), the price of a single porcelain crown could be anywhere from $600 to $3000.  Do not assume that the dentist charging $3000 is making any more money per crown than the dentist charging $600.  The quality levels of porcelain crowns vary tremendously.  A better crown will look more natural, have a better bite, be stronger, last longer, fit better and will not fray or snap your floss.  The gum tissue will be healthier and the tooth will be less likely to decay or leak. The old adage “you get what you pay for” very often (not always, so be careful) applies to porcelain crowns.  When choosing a dentist to do your crowns, it is important to know that the complexity of a case goes up tremendously when multiple teeth need crowns at the same time.  Do your homework and get several opinions; find a dentist that has the appropriate training and does these procedures all of the time and has before and after photos of many cases to share with you.

Porcelain crowns

Porcelain crowns can be beautiful. This sweet lady came in with a hosh-posh of old crowns done by three different dentists. some were opaque, some had black lines at the gum line, some did not match in color. We listened carefully to how she wanted them to look and gave her the look that she was after!

E Max porcelain crowns

This patient had very healthy teeth but had old dentistry that was uneven, unplanned, and varied in its appearance. She wanted a clean, uniform, and natural smile. Treatment choices were complicated by a tooth grinding habit at night. She helped us create something that matched her goals. Every tooth on the upper is an E Max crown

porcelain crown

This patient had some dental work many years ago done due to an accident that chipped several of her front teeth. She had a beautiful smile before the accident and was always proud of her healthy white teeth. When we first met her as a new patient, the existing dentistry was easily recognized as artificial or “fake” and even though it was recently done, it was already defective with staining margins and beginning decay. EMax crowns were created to match exactly the shape, surface shape, brightness, and translucency of her original teeth. It is possible to make full coverage biocompatible restorations with the same beautiful lifelike appearance as conservative veneers. These restorations are made with the newest in technologies, E Max™.







More photographic examples of cosmetic dental treatments.

Dr. James Fondriest is proud to serve Chicago and Chicago’s North Shore suburbs.