- A temporary crown serves as a short-term placeholder until a permanent crown is made.
- Pain can develop for the length of time that the temporary crown is in use.
- Discomfort typically lasts a couple of days to a few weeks, until the permanent crown is placed.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers and rinses may provide relief but swelling and severe pain require professional attention.
While most people have no difficulty during the placement of a dental crown, it is possible to experience pain with temporary crowns. Some underlying oral conditions can also worsen due to the procedure, which can add to the discomfort.
Pain with temporary crowns should not be ignored as it may signal previously undetected dental issues. Whatever the underlying reasons, thankfully, several effective measures are available to address the pain.
What is a temporary crown?
If you have a cavity or fracture impacting more than half the width of your tooth, your dentist will usually cover it with a temporary crown until a customized, permanent crown can be made in the lab.
This temporary crown provides a functional, protective covering for your tooth until the permanent crown is ready, and protects it better than a large filling would.
In addition to preventing damage and reducing sensitivity, the temporary crown will maintain the space that the restored tooth will occupy, as teeth can drift if they are not in contact with each other. It will also visually preserve the appearance of your smile until the permanent crown is completed.
What causes pain from temporary crowns?
While the use of temporary crowns to maintain space does not cause pain, minor treatment complications or poor dental health could lead to discomfort.
According to Dr. Timothy Stirneman in Lake of the Hills, IL, “Temporary crowns can be uncomfortable when they are too high or too tall. The opposing tooth may collide with the one with the crown, which has the potential to cause pain and inflammation.”
The pain typically involves your tooth dentin, which is the layer of tissue located below the enamel. It contains several tiny, branching canals known as dentinal tubules that may become sensitive to hot and cold temperatures when exposed to the outside air. This may happen if the temporary crown is not sealed properly.
Typically, this nerve response is one of the most common reasons patients experience pain from temporary crowns.
“The nerve in the tooth may also be traumatized,” says Dr. Paul Sussman of Rochester, New York. “In most cases, the tooth that requires a crown is already compromised due to decay or trauma, so pain can be due to an irreversible pulpitis of the nerve of the tooth because the nerve is dying. Discomfort can also be due to soreness at the injection site or even holding the jaw open for an extended period of time.”
According to Dr. Nancy E. Gill of Golden, CO, “Sometimes the crown was done because of a crack, and a crown is the last resort before a root canal. Therefore, it can continue to hurt.”
Ways to relieve the pain
There are ways to relieve pain resulting from temporary crowns both at home and in the dentist’s office.
Each crown is bonded with a short-term cement called zinc oxide eugenol, which has a sedative effect on the tooth nerve and helps relieve discomfort. Despite this bond’s sedative properties, Dr. Stirneman notes that patients prone to sensitivity may feel minor pain during eating, which is normal.
“However, if the symptoms are extreme, they should call their dental professional right away,” he cautions.
Dr. Stirneman recommends an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen for mild pain. Dr. Sussman adds that over-the-counter pain relievers and rinsing with a teaspoon of warm salt water will help with both tooth sensitivity and sore gums.
“If the gum tissue looks swollen or inflamed, these are potential signs of an infection,” cautions Dr. Sussman.
In cases of extreme pain, Dr. Stirneman reiterates that, “During most situations, we ask the patient to come back in and see us so that we can professionally evaluate and take care of any discomfort.”
Dental care professionals always recommend scheduling a visit if the pain persists and is affecting your daily living. “The bite can be adjusted, or the temporary crown can be remade if necessary,” says Dr. Gill.
Dr. Stirneman typically trims down the temporary crown for his patients. “When it fits better, it will not hit the opposing teeth with undue pressure. If the temporary crown is not sealed enough, I will clean out the area and reseal it with extra attention.”
Potential health risks with temporary crowns
According to research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, getting a temporary crown is generally a low-risk treatment for patients with healthy teeth and gums. It usually provides more benefits for patients than disadvantages, plus it’s only worn for a relatively brief period.
Dr. Stirneman notes that the average term of a temporary crown is 2-3 weeks. “In most cases, the patient will just experience discomfort,” he says.
However, temporary crowns can cause discomfort for those who need a root canal. “In these cases, it is important to tend to any pain from temporary crowns quickly as it can escalate. If the bite is high, it could also cause TMJ problems,” informs Dr. Gill.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the skull to the jawbone — a TMJ disorder can lead to significant pain in your jaw joint, as well as discomfort in the muscles that control its movement.
It is also possible, Dr. Sussman says, for the temporary crown to loosen or a piece of it to break off. In addition, patients can experience digestive problems from using over-the-counter oral analgesics.
In Dr. Sussman’s opinion, “The biggest risk of ignoring persistent pain after any dental procedure is the possibility of further disease progression. If the pain is coming from the nerve of the tooth and it is not treated, an infection may develop which can spread beyond the tooth.”
Thus, it’s important to tell your dentist if you see swelling around or above the gum tissue of the tooth being treated. If the tooth is loose or moves, call your dentist as soon as possible for an evaluation.
Alternatives if you give up the crown
Patients with chronic tooth sensitivity or those in need of a root canal may choose an alternative method or procedure.
If the best choice of care is receiving a crown, some dental offices have laboratories on site, so they can make impressions and crowns of your tooth in as little as a day. Seek out a dentist with a restoration and prosthetic laboratory on site, or ask friends and family for recommendations.
You can also talk to your doctor about other ways to protect your tooth. A temporary filling — also known as an onlay — may prevent sensitivity better than a temporary crown.
A dental onlay is like a crown but instead of covering the entire tooth, it only covers the area where filling is necessary. If you need a tooth cusp replacement, this restoration can cover the area where the missing cusp would be.
Before taking on a temporary crown
You may have reservations about having a temporary crown put it. This can range from worries over worsening pain to the possibility of TMJ issues down the line.
While there are ways to relieve sensitivity or discomfort until a permanent crown is ready to be placed, having a conversation with your dentist about your concerns is always advisable.
Ask your dentist to cover the benefits and risks of placing a crown, and how they recommend you handle your symptoms should they develop. This would be the most efficient way to discover all your options and ultimately decide if this is the right treatment for you.