Dental ceramic, which is also called dental porcelain, is a material used to make dental restorations, like crowns and veneers. Dental ceramics are biocompatible, meaning that they perform comparably to natural biological materials and are unlikely to be rejected by immune responses. Dental ceramics are also aesthetically appealing, as ceramic can easily be made to resemble natural teeth in color and luminescence. Dental ceramics aren’t ideal for all tooth restorations, but they are durable and often effective for many common dental restorations.
Ceramics are materials that are hard and brittle and can appear opaque or translucent. Dental ceramics are composed of specific combinations of minerals that provide strength, durability, and aesthetic benefits, and they have either a glass base or a crystalline base. Restorations may be made entirely of dental ceramic, or they may be made of ceramic that has been fused to metal. The latter may be preferable for teeth that need to be very durable, though the metal base may affect the translucency of the teeth.
Dental ceramics are made of different combinations of materials depending on the desired final color of the restoration, as dictated by the dentist and dental team. Once the restoration has been crafted, it is fired, which dries out the ceramic and hardens it. After it cools, if the restoration needs to be further modified, additional layers of ceramic may be added and then fired. Once the restoration is accurately formed in terms of size and shape, dental technicians can stain and glaze the surfaces of the restorations, helping them look more like natural teeth. Glazing also seals the outside of the teeth, helping protect porous areas and also smoothing the surface of the restoration so it doesn’t irritate adjacent teeth.
Innovations in computer-aided design and manufacture within the field of dentistry have had particular beneficial effects for restorations. Until recently, ceramic restorations were painstakingly designed and crafted based on molds of the patient’s mouth and teeth, often taking a month or longer between measurement and placement in the mouth. These computer-aided innovations allow trained dental clinicians to design, create, and place ceramic restorations in a single office visit. These computer-aided processes also allow patients to see visual renderings of their restorations -- and their new, improved smiles -- before the restorations are crafted and placed. Thus far, the only restorations that can be manufactured using these computer-aided technologies are restorations that are all-ceramic, which means that this option is only appropriate for certain types of restorations, such as the top, front teeth; these restorations are usually located in places where there is not significant force from chewing, and where the teeth are visible and aesthetics are important.
Dental ceramics may be used to create veneers, inlays and onlays, crowns and bridges, implant structures, and the teeth that make up dentures. They are not recommended for patients who clench or grind their teeth, for patients whose permanent teeth have not yet erupted, for patients with irregular or uneven bites, or for certain types of specific and uncommon restorations.