“This Will Last Forever, Right?”

After cementing a crown in, I usually get asked, “How long will this last?” Or better yet, “This will last forever, right?”  With the second question, the patient is usually being sarcastic but other times I’m not so sure.  Some patients may really think that tooth is done being treated for the rest of their life.   Especially for the amount of money they paid if they just had to get a root canal and a crown done.

The answer to the first question of how long any dental treatment will last is, “I have no idea.”  No dentist really wants to say that because patients want to hear a definite answer.  I’d love to give a definite answer:  20 years.  That would be great.  Most people would be happy and leave it at that.  But the honest answer is that we simply have no idea.

Think about this.  You chew on your teeth all day long, hundreds of cycles of crushing food.  Some people even grind their teeth, putting a ridiculous amount of stress on them.  We are constantly switching between hot and cold drinks which cause dental fillings to expand and contract due to the changes in temperature.   Some people chew ice and others simply don’t floss.  Some don’t even brush.  It’s amazing any dental work lasts more than a couple of months.  See how hard it is to give a definite answer?  It’s impossible.

As far as the second question in regards to patients thinking dental work should last a really long time (or possibly forever), my question is, “Why didn’t your original teeth last forever?”  Some patients think that dental work is somehow better than the original equipment, aka the natural tooth.   Dental work is not as good as the natural tooth but thanks for the compliment!  We are simply doing our best to repair what is decayed, broken or infected.  Modern dentistry may even have caused this thinking because a lot of our treatments do last a long time.  I see crowns that are over 40 years old and doing just fine.  Those patients also have good genetics, good habits, and good oral hygiene.

Let’s go ahead and answer the next question that usually comes up.  “Well, my last crown lasted over 20 years so will this one last that long?”  That’s great that it did and I hope the next one does.  You were also twenty years younger with different habits, a different diet, and most likely all around healthier.  And now you have osteoarthritis and flossing is really difficult.  Besides all this, we’ll still do everything in our power to get that new crown to last you 20 years.  But that power only goes so far.

Sometimes we just need a little perspective.  Dental insurance usually pays for a new filling every 1-2 years and a crown every 5 years.  That is a lot sooner than forever.  Do we set the bar at this level?  Of course not.  We aim for forever but we don’t always get there.