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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Zirconia is the New ‘Crown’ Jewel of Dentistry: The use of Zirconia, a naturally occurring element, is a healthier option for crowns, says Dr. David Lewis

Dec 01, 2014 10:45AM ● By Dr. David G. Lewis

For at least 100 years, dentists have created crowns (caps) to restore badly broken-down, fractured or decayed teeth. A crown is typically needed when enough tooth structure is missing to prevent using a filling material. Historically, crowns were made from metal alloy castings (often gold), then porcelain fused to metal (PFM) products, and more recently, all-ceramic systems were developed.

Gold crowns are strong, but unaesthetic, PFMs are very prone to porcelain fracturing, and ceramic products have also been subject to failure under heavy function. The last decade has seen the development of monolithic zirconia materials to make dental crowns, and they have become the go-to crown for many dentists practicing today.

Zirconium is a naturally occurring element found in stars and comets, the Sun, moon rocks and the Earth’s crust and oceans. One form of the element is known as zircon, an excellent gemstone sometimes used as a diamond substitute. Dental researchers have taken a form of zirconium called zirconia dioxide (ZrO2) and created blocks of very dense material called green zirconia.

The blocks are then altered via computerized scanners and very sophisticated grinders (CAD/CAM technology), then subjected to 1,500 degrees C for two hours to create very strong, precisely fitting dental crowns. The crowns are called monolithic because they are made from one solid mass of material, rather than being layered, as with most porcelain. Popular brands are BruxZir and Zir-MAX (created by Burbank Dental Lab), among many others.

Advantages of monolithic zirconia crowns include strength and fracture resistance (ideal for patients that are grinders); favorable wear characteristics (less abrasive to teeth than porcelain); good esthetics (used mostly for back teeth); ease of use and reasonable cost to the dentist; and medical-grade zirconia is proving to be very biocompatible and well tolerated by patients.

Patients report these crowns look, feel and function great compared with other types of crowns they have had. Modern dentists can now restore heavy functioning teeth without the use of toxic metals or brittle porcelains.

For more information about zirconia, contact Dr. David G. Lewis, who practices dentistry at 408 E. Southern Ave., in Tempe. For more information, call 480-967-4204 or visit

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