When your dentist tells you that you need a root canal, it's not a suggestion. Your dental pulp (the nerve inside your troubled tooth) is inflamed and infected, and it's not going to recover. Pulp necrosis (the death of the nerve) is now inevitable, so your dentist must remove the pulp before cleaning the empty pulp chamber and packing it with a latex filling material. 

Access and Removal

No matter how routine a root canal is, it's still relatively invasive, as far as your tooth is concerned. Don't worry, you will receive anaesthetic, so it certainly won't feel invasive. But your dentist must create a cavity in your tooth (or widen an existing cavity) so they can access and remove the inflamed dental pulp. In short, the tooth is left with a hole.

A Temporary Filling

Immediately following the root canal, your dentist will close the access cavity by applying a temporary filling. This isn't as robust as a permanent filling, but it protects the tooth while it adjusts to its new pulp-free reality. It's also easily removed, in case remnants of the pulp have remained in the chamber, and it turns out that supplemental work is needed to complete your root canal.

A Temporary Dental Crown

In addition to a temporary filling, you may also be given a temporary dental crown. This is likely to be acrylic (plastic) and will be bonded to the tooth, fully encasing it. Again, this isn't as robust as a permanent dental crown. The crown's material means that it might not look entirely natural, but this restoration is intended to protect the tooth while the root canal settles. It's a temporary, functional restoration, as opposed to being both functional and aesthetically pleasing. You mustn't overwork the temporary crown (so be careful what you eat), as it won't be bonded as securely as a permanent crown.

Permanent Restorations

Once your dentist is satisfied that the root canal has been successful and no further work is needed, your temporary restorations will be upgraded. The temporary filling is removed and its permanent replacement is applied. Since a significant amount of the tooth's surface was modified to create the access cavity, a filling won't be able to maintain the tooth's structural integrity on its own. This is why the final step of a root canal tends to be the fitting of a permanent dental crown.

Someone who needs a root canal might find themselves needing four types of dental restorations following the procedure: a temporary filling and crown, followed by a permanent filling and crown. This is fairly standard, and it's necessary to ensure the long-term success of your dental work.

For more information on root canals, contact a dentist in your area.