Crowns and Root Canals FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do I need a root canal when my tooth doesn't hurt?

A: A root canal is a procedure done in an effort to save a tooth that has sustained damage to the pulp or "nerve" of the tooth. This pulp is the soft, inner most part of the tooth and it contains many kinds of tissue, including blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the pulp can come in various forms including trauma and decay. Pain has little to do with whether or not a tooth needs a root canal, but is often a good indicator that it does. I have seen teeth with huge abscesses that never hurt and teeth that look flawless that cause a considerable amount of pain. I guess luck helps to decide who experiences pain and who doesn't. However, dental work of all kinds is much easier when done before the tooth starts hurting.

Q: What is a root canal?

A: A root canal is a dental procedure done in an effort to save a tooth. Also called endodontic therapy, root canals involve removing damaged or decayed tissue from inside the tooth, disinfecting the tooth, and finally filling the "canals" inside the tooth with cement and a soft material called gutta-percha. This gutta-percha is a softer isomer of rubber, and it provides an airtight seal inside the tooth. Finally, depending on the amount of tooth structure lost to trauma or decay, either a filling or crown is used to restore function back to the tooth.

Q: Why do I need a crown on a tooth that had a root canal?

A: The answer is simply to protect the tooth and restore function. When a tooth has had root canal therapy, a large portion of the tooth has been lost to trauma, decay or to the therapeutic procedure. A crown or cap covers the tooth and replaces missing tooth structure. Once the crown is cemented in place, the chances of the tooth fracturing are greatly decreased. Additionally, the tooth should function as a normal, healthy tooth again.

Q: What is a crown?

A: A crown, or cap, is a dental restoration primarily used to provide strength and restore function. They may also be used to improve esthetics and give stability to dental appliances such as dentures. Crowns are used in situations where there is too much missing tooth structure to perform another restorative procedures such as filling. Crowns cover most or the entire tooth and replace missing tooth structure. As a result strength and function are returned to the tooth. Crowns can be made of a variety of material which usually falls into two categories: metal and ceramic. Metal is often used on back teeth to give extra strength, while ceramic crowns are usually used in the front of the mouth for esthetic reasons.

Q: How long do crowns last?

A: Crowns on average last about 10 years, although they can last much longer or fail much more quickly. There are many factors that determine how long a crown lasts. These factors include but are not limited to the patient's oral health maintenance, diet, parafunctional habits such as clenching or grinding, and how much of the original tooth was left to restore. A well done crown done on a tooth that was treated before too much tooth structure was lost can last for decades. A crown done on a patient with poor oral hygiene and a badly broken down tooth could only last a year or two.