A tooth needs a root canal when the nerve inside the tooth is infected or inflamed due to decay or trauma. To save the tooth, the living tissue inside the tooth (called the pulp), which contains the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue, is removed along with any decay. The root is disinfected, filled with medicated dental materials, and sealed. Afterwards, the tooth is covered with a crown or a filling for added protection and can then function like any other tooth.
Root canal treatments are very successful and a tooth can last a lifetime after treatment. Occasionally, a tooth that has received a root canal can get a new infection and will have to be retreated.
Root canals, rather than extractions, are a dentist’s choice of treatment to save a tooth that is infected. Patients mistakenly believe that pulling out an infected tooth will solve their problems when in fact they are creating new, potentially more costly and significant, problems for the adjacent teeth.
While some teeth show no symptoms of infection or injury, the following are common signs that you may need to see your dentist:
Symptoms for possible root canal:
– An abscess (or bump) on the gums
– Cold or hot sensitivity
– Severe toothache
– Swelling or tenderness
Reasons for root canal therapy:
– Trauma or injury
– Infection inside tooth or root tip
– Decay has reached the pulp
What does root canal therapy involve?
A root canal procedure may require one or two appointments depending on the condition of the tooth. The procedure may be performed by your dentist or if you have more difficult case, you may be referred to an endodontist, a dentist who is a root canal specialist.
The dentist will numb the tooth and place a rubber dam on the tooth. The rubber dam is a sheet of protective rubber that will isolate the tooth and keep the area around the tooth dry and saliva free. The doctor will make an opening on the top of the tooth and place root canal files, of different sizes, one at a time into the opening to methodically and carefully but thoroughly remove the pulp. The doctor will also remove decay if any that is found. This careful removal process also shapes the inside of the tooth in preparation for the filling material which is placed into the root at the conclusion of the procedure.
If the dentist does not finish the root canal on the first visit, he will place medication into the opening of the tooth and seal it with temporary filling material until the patient returns, usually a week later, to finish the procedure.
Once the tooth is completely cleaned, the dentist will fill the space with a biocompatible dental material and cover the opening with either a temporary or permanent filling. The type of filling depends on whether the patient needs to return for further treatment or final restoration. Your tooth may feel different or still be sensitive after the root canal. This is normal and will subside as the inflammation goes down and your tooth heals.
After the conclusion of the root canal treatment, you must return to your dentist to have your tooth evaluated for a crown or other restoration that will protect the tooth and restore it to full function.
You will be given care instructions after your procedure. Good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist will aid in the life of your root canal treated tooth.