Natural teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even if one of your teeth should become seriously injured or diseased, oftentimes it can be saved through a specialized dental procedure known as endodontic treatment. Although this technique, popularly called root canal therapy, has been around for several decades, recent advances in the field of endodontics have made root canal therapy almost a routine procedure.
The type of material used for the crown will depend on where the tooth is located in your mouth, the color of the tooth, and the amount of natural tooth remaining. A front tooth that affects appearance, for instance, most likely will be restored with a porcelain crown. When a back tooth has been badly fractured or decayed, a gold or porcelain-fused-metal crown may be used. Your dentist will discuss these options with you.
To help you understand when and why such a procedure might be needed and how a damaged tooth can be saved, we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions about endodontic treatment.
Endodontics is the area of dentistry concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the dental pulp (the tooth's soft core.) Years ago, teeth with diseased or injured pulp were extracted. Today, endodontics is a means of saving teeth that once would have been lost.
The pulp is a soft tissue that contains nerves, arteries, veins, and lymph vessels. It lies within the dentin, the bone-like tissue that supports the enamel, and that makes up most of the tooth structure. Within the dentin, the pulp extends from the pulp chamber in the crown (the portion of the tooth visible above the gums) down to the tip of the root via the root canal. Teeth with more than one root, such as molars, have more than one root canal; but all teeth have only one pulp chamber.
When the pulp is diseased or injured and unable to repair itself, the pulp dies. The most common cause of pulp death is a fractured tooth or a deep cavity, which can expose the pulp to the bacteria causing an infection inside the tooth. This infection, left untreated, causes pus to build up at the root tip, forming an abscess. Eventually, the pulp surrounding the tooth will be destroyed.
If the damaged or diseased pulp is not removed, the tooth and surrounding tissues become infected. Pain and swelling may accompany the infection. Even in the absence of pain, certain by-products of a diseased pulp can injure the bone that anchors your tooth in the jaw. Without treatment, your tooth will eventually have to be removed.
Treatment usually requires one, rarely two, appointments. During these treatments, your dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in the disorders of the pulp) removes the diseased pulp. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned, sterilized, and sealed to prevent recontamination of the root canal system.
The choice is yours, but there are many disadvantages to losing a tooth. When teeth next to the empty space begin to shift from their normal positions, the teeth may become crooked or crowded, thus decreasing your chewing and biting efficiency. Crowded or crooked teeth are also more prone to dental disease because they are harder to keep clean than are properly aligned teeth. As a result, you may lose even more teeth if the missing tooth is not replaced.
Whenever a tooth is lost, it is important to have a replacement tooth (bridge) put in place of the removed natural tooth. A bridge is usually more expensive than endodontic treatment and involves dental work on adjacent teeth.
On the other hand, endodontic treatment can safely and comfortably save a tooth that otherwise would have to be removed. In fact, root canal therapy is successful 90% of the time. Remember, a healthy restored tooth is always better than an artificial one.
Your restored tooth could last a lifetime if you continue to care for your teeth and gums. A long as the root(s) of an endodontically treated tooth are properly nourished by the surrounding tissues, your tooth will remain healthy.
In order to maintain healthy tissues and prevent future infection, you should brush and floss your teeth daily, eat balanced meals and reduce the number of times you eat sugar-rich foods, use fluoride daily, and visit your dentist regularly. These measures will help you keep your natural teeth and enjoy good dental health for a lifetime.