Root canal therapy, also referred to as endodontic treatment, is a common dental procedure that is used to save a tooth that cannot be restored with a filling alone. While the thought of root canal treatment may sound daunting and painful, the procedure has come a long way in recent years and is now considered a painless and effective way to save teeth.
Root canal therapy is often recommended when the tooth’s pulp, the soft tissue inside the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels, becomes infected or inflamed. This can occur due to tooth decay, trauma, or repeated dental procedures on the same tooth. If left untreated, the infection can spread and lead to serious complications.
During a root canal, the dentist or endodontist will remove the infected or damaged pulp, clean the inside of the tooth, and fill the empty space with a special material to seal the tooth and prevent future infections. The procedure is usually completed in one or two visits and is performed under local anesthesia to ensure that the patient remains comfortable throughout.
While some patients may opt to have a tooth extracted instead of undergoing root canal therapy, saving the natural tooth is usually the best option whenever possible. Extracting a tooth can lead to a shift in the patient’s bite, causing additional dental problems down the road. Additionally, restoring the tooth with a prosthetic such as an implant or bridge can be more expensive in the long run and can require more maintenance than a natural tooth.
It’s also worth noting that many of the misconceptions surrounding root canal therapy are outdated. Thanks to advancements in dental technology and pain management, most patients report little to no discomfort during or after the procedure. With proper care, a tooth that has undergone root canal therapy can last a lifetime and continue to function just like a natural tooth.
If you are experiencing tooth pain or suspect that you may need root canal therapy, it’s important to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. With prompt treatment, you can save your natural tooth and avoid more serious dental problems in the future.
To understand how root canal therapy works, it is necessary to understand the structure of teeth. Teeth are composed of four primary components, three of which serve to safeguard the innermost section, called the pulp chamber. The enamel, which is the hardest substance in the human body, is a thin layer that shields the dentin inside and is what we typically think of as the tooth. Below the gums, another layer known as cementum protects the roots of the teeth. The pulp chamber, which contains the nerves and blood vessels that support the tooth within the jawbone, is located inside the tooth. Depending on the tooth that requires treatment, there may be between one and four roots. If infection or trauma penetrates these protective barriers and reaches the pulp chamber, root canal therapy may be required to restore oral health.
When the tooth pulp undergoes inflammation, infection, or trauma, often due to severe decay or repeated dental procedures, root canal therapy may be necessary to save the tooth. If left untreated, the pulp can cause pain and lead to the formation of an abscess. Some common signs and symptoms that may indicate the need for root canal therapy include intense pain when biting or chewing, pimples on the gums, chips or cracks in the enamel, prolonged sensitivity to cold, heat, or sweet foods, swollen or painful gums, and deep decay or tooth discoloration around the gum line. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your dentist for an examination to identify the source of your discomfort.
When the pulp is no longer required for a tooth to survive, the pulp chamber can be cleared out, allowing the tooth to be saved. Root canal therapy may be combined with a crown if too much of the tooth’s surface is damaged or decayed. The procedure generally takes two to three visits to complete.
Here’s how the process works:
After an examination and x-rays, the dentist will numb the area to ensure that the patient is comfortable throughout the procedure. A protective barrier will be placed around the tooth to protect it from saliva and bacteria during the process. Any existing decay will be removed, and an opening will be made in the crown of the tooth. The tooth will be flushed out, cleaned, and dried as many times as necessary to eliminate infection-causing bacteria. The dentist will use a special file to remove the pulp from the root canal channels and shape it. The canals will be filled with a body-friendly material to maintain their shape. If the tooth lacks enough structure, a small post may be inserted with the filling material to better support the future crown. A filling will be put in place to seal the interior of the tooth, and if a crown is required, this filling will be replaced with a temporary one until the final crown is ready. Once the final crown is in place, the patient will be able to eat, speak, and smile comfortably for years to come.
Since every patient’s teeth are unique, teeth with particularly difficult-shaped roots may need to be referred to an endodontist, a dentist who specializes exclusively in root canals. Visit our blog post on root canals to learn more about what you need to know about them.