A root canal is an endodontic treatment that is used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or has become infected. During the procedure, the nerve and pulp (the soft area within the center of the tooth) is removed and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed.
“Root canal” is the term used for the natural cavity within the center of the tooth, the area where the tooth’s nerve lies. A tooth’s nerve is not essential to a tooth’s health and function after the tooth has emerged through the gums. Its only real function is sensory—it provides the sensation of hot or cold— so the absence of a nerve will not affect the tooth’s day-to-day functioning.
When a tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it begins to break down and bacteria collect within the pulp chamber, which can lead to infection. This may result in the formation of an abscess, a pus-filled pocket that forms at the ends of the tooth. An abscess occurs when the infection spreads all the way past the roots of the tooth. An infection of the root canal of a tooth can also result in swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck or head; bone loss around the tip of the root; and/or drainage problems extending outward from the root.
The root canal treatment prevents further infection, abscess formation and these other related problems, and it has a very high success rate (more than 95%). Teeth that are repaired with a root canal can last a lifetime. What’s more, because the final step of the root canal procedure is application of a restoration such as a crown or a filling, it will not be obvious to others that a root canal was even performed.
What are the symptoms that you need a root canal?
A tooth’s nerve and pulp can become irritated, inflamed, and infected for many reasons: due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a tooth, and/or large fillings, a crack or chip in the tooth, or even trauma to the face.
Symptoms that you may need a root canal include severe toothache pain when you chew or apply pressure, persistent sensitivity to heat or cold temperatures, discoloration (darkening) of the tooth, or swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums.
The root canal procedure
A root canal generally requires one or more office visits. The first steps involves taking an x-ray to determine the shape of the root canal and if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding bone. You will then be given local anesthesia to numb the area near the tooth.
To keep the area dry and free of saliva during treatment, the dentist will place a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) around the tooth and drill an access hole into the tooth. The pulp, along with bacteria, the decayed nerve tissue and any related debris, is then removed from the tooth using what are known as root canal files. Water or sodium hypochlorite is used periodically to flush away the debris.
When the tooth has been cleaned thoroughly, the dentist seals it. Once the tooth is sealed, a follow-up step often involves further restoration of the tooth. Because a tooth that needs a root canal often has a large filling, extensive decay or other weakness, a crown or other restoration often needs to be put on to protect it. This prevents it from breaking and restores the tooth so it can function normally. Your Crystal dentist will discuss the need for any additional dental work with you.
What to expect afterwards.
While root canals have the reputation of being painful, most patients actually report that the procedure is no more uncomfortable than having a filling put in. For the first couple of days after the root canal is done, the tooth may feel sensitive. This is normal — the result of natural tissue inflammation, which tends to occur if there was pain or infection before the procedure was done. Any sensitivity or discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Most patients return to their normal activities the very next day.
Until your root canal procedure is completely finished—that is to say, the permanent filling or crown is in place—it’s best to minimize chewing on the tooth under repair. This will help avoid recontamination of the interior of the tooth and may also prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before the tooth can be fully restored.
No other special dental care is required on your part. Simply brush and floss as you would regularly and see your dentist at normally scheduled intervals.
Think you may need a root canal?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above—or know, for sure, that you need the procedure done—don’t wait. Call us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Contact Us!