A root canal is a procedure that extracts decayed pulp from the central part of the tooth, reshapes the canal and replaces it with strengthening filler. Root canal therapy is the most commonly performed procedure amongst all endodontic treatment procedures. A dentist performs root canal treatment to treat problems related to the soft inner pulp of a tooth.
A cavity is the result of superficial decay of the enamel of the tooth. Left long enough, this decay can burrow into the deeper reaches of the tooth, causing extensive damage to tooth structure. When the damage goes beyond what can be treated with a filling, dentists can perform a root canal (or endodontics), preserving the tooth and retaining its original integrity; thereby, saving a tooth that in the past would have to have been pulled.
- The patient is administered local anesthesia to numb the area.
- A dental dam is used to isolate the tooth.
- The tooth is opened to allow for removal of infected or dead dental pulp.
- The tooth is comprehensively cleaned, including any cracks and canals.
- With special tools, the doctor reshapes the canals.
- The tooth is filled again with cutting edge bio-compatible filling material.
- A temporary covering is used to cover the access opening.
Patients MUST see their regular dentist quickly for a permanent restoration of the tooth.
Symptoms and Signs of Needing a Root Canal
You may need a root canal if a tooth is causing you pain or if the gums adjacent to the tooth are tender and swollen. Another symptom is if the tooth appears discolored and has become extra sensitive to heat and cold. If these symptoms reveal inflamed and infected pulp inside the tooth then your dentist may recommend a root canal procedure.
Causes of Dental Pulp or Nerve Damage
Dental caries (cavities), chipped teeth, cracked dental fillings, and injury to the teeth can cause damage to the dental pulp. If dental caries are not treated in time, the decay spreads inwards into the tooth pulp causing nerve damage. Cracked dental fillings allow saliva and harmful bacteria to reach the root canal and infect the pulp. Fractured teeth can expose the pulp. Injury to the teeth can cause pulp damage even if there are no external signs of damage to the inside of the teeth.
When the nerves inside the tooth pulp die, the tooth dentin and enamel can no longer receive organic nutrients and moisture. The inflamed tissue surrounding the tooth causes toothache and infection can damage the bones around the teeth. If the damaged pulp is not treated, bacterial infection and inflammation can loosen the tooth and it may have to be removed. Therefore, root canal therapy is necessary to preserve the tooth and also protect the jawbone.
Risks Associated With Root Canal Therapy
After completion of root canal therapy you might feel some discomfort for few days following the treatment. To alleviate the discomfort you can follow the dentist’s recommendation on taking an over the counter pain medication. In more extreme cases the dentist may prescribe an antibiotic and prescription-strength pain reliever to help reduce any remaining infection.
Following root canal therapy you should never chew directly on the repaired tooth until its final restoration has occurred or your tooth may crack. Also, keep in mind that the longer you wait to complete the final restoration the more likely bacteria will reinfect the treated canal requiring the therapy to be performed all over again.
Root canal therapy, like every other treatment, is not free of unknowns and complications. There is a possibility that during the procedure a shaping file could break and get stuck in the root canal or that the root of the tooth fractures. In other cases a good seal may not be achieved due to the shape of the root. Lastly, it is possible to miss a hidden root or an extra canal that is in need of treatment. Of course these complications are the exceptions not the norm.
In the event that root canal therapy is unsuccessful, the dentist can discuss alternative options including repeating the treatment or extracting the infected tooth.