What Is a Root Canal & Crown?


Most of the time, if you have tooth decay or a cavity, your dentist can fill it with a metal or resin filling and the tooth is better. Sometimes, however, the decay is too deep for the dentist to restore with a filling, and she or a specialist, called an endodontist, must perform a root canal. Root canals are also performed on teeth that have become abscessed. After a root canal is performed, your general dentist will often place a crown on the tooth.

Root Canal Procedure

When performing a root canal, your dentist gets you very numb with a local anesthetic. Then he isolates the tooth with a rubber dam. A rubber dam is a piece of latex stretched over a U-shaped frame. The dentist works on your tooth through a hole in the rubber dam. This protects the tooth from contamination from saliva, and also prevents you from swallowing the small instruments involved in the root canal procedure.

After drilling a small hole in the biting surface of the tooth, the dentist uses small nickel titanium or steel files to remove the nerve tissue from your tooth. When all of the tissue is out, he uses slightly bigger files to widen the canals. He fills the canals with a synthetic material called gutta percha and places a temporary filling in original hole that he drilled.

Tooth isolated with rubber dam.
Tooth isolated with rubber dam.

Root Canal Benefits

The benefits of a root canal are a cessation of pain and a chance for any bone or tooth abscess to heal. If your tooth was sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods before, it will not be after your root canal therapy. The reason for this is that the inflamed nerve tissue is removed during the root canal, so it is not able to transmit feelings of pain from hot, cold or sugar. You may be given an antibiotic to take to help your abscess, if any, clear up after the root canal is completed.

Root canal on x-ray.
Root canal on x-ray.

Root Canal Misconceptions

Many people have the misconception that root canal therapy is very painful. Your dentist will give you enough local anesthetic to keep you comfortable during the procedure. After the root canal is done and the anesthetic wears off, you may have some soreness for a few days to biting pressure.

Some patients who have never had a root canal before think that a root canal is actually oral surgery. During root canal therapy, you will not have your gums cut at all. The dentist will do all of the work through the access hole in the biting surface of the tooth.

Crown Procedure

After your root canal is complete, your dentist may recommend a crown to protect the tooth from breakage and decay. First, she takes an impression of your teeth. During this procedure, you bite into a soft material that will harden around your teeth. When it is hardened, the dentist will take it out of your mouth and it will be sent to a laboratory. The impression helps the lab technician make the crown in the same shape and position that your original tooth was.

Next, the dentist will prepare the tooth for the crown. He will drill around the entire tooth and across the biting surface. Once the tooth is prepared, he will fabricate a temporary crown out of acrylic or a plastic-based material. You will wear this temporary crown for two to three weeks, until the permanent crown comes back from the laboratory. At that time, the dentist will remove the temporary crown and will place the permanent crown on your tooth with permanent cement.

Dental impression made for the crown.
Dental impression made for the crown.

Types of Crowns

Some different types of crowns include gold crowns, porcelain crowns and porcelain-fused-to-metal, or PFM, crowns. Depending on where the tooth is in your mouth and what you use that particular tooth for, you and your dentist will choose the best type of crown for you. Teeth located in the front of your mouth will look more natural with a tooth-colored porcelain crown. Molars need the strength of metal crown. Gold is strong, but PFM crowns are tooth-colored, and some patients prefer them.

Gold crown.
Gold crown.

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