If you have a tooth that is fractured, severely decayed or has an infection (abscess), your dentist may recommend root canal therapy (often times the word “therapy” is dropped and the procedure is commonly referred to as just “root canal”). Root canals are used to repair and save your tooth instead of extracting it.
What’s Involved in a Root Canal
Every tooth has a root canal system which houses the blood vessels and nerve fibers of the tooth. The blood vessels and nerve fibers are referred to as the pulp of a tooth. Tooth structure is living tissue so it requires oxygen so that’s why there are blood vessels inside each tooth. The pulp can become infected if you have:
- A deep cavity that goes to the pulp (the bacteria that creates the cavity is now in the root canal system).
- A cracked or fractured tooth
- Blunt trauma to a tooth causing injury to the blood vessels entering the roots.
If untreated, the tooth can become infected. If this happens, you may develop pain and swelling and an abscess may form in the bone around the end of the root of the tooth. The bacteria in the bone can break down the bone matrix which could lead to lose of the tooth.
Root canal therapy can take 1 or 2 office visits to complete. Since your dentist will use local anesthetic (Novocaine), the procedure is typically pain-free.
Before Treatment Begins, Your Dentist Will:
- Take X-rays to see the apex of the root and surrounding bone.
- Numb the area around and including your tooth so you are comfortable during the treatment.
During treatment, Your Dentist Will:
- Create an opening (access to the pulp) through the biting surface of the tooth.
- Remove the blood vessels and nerve fibers from inside the root canal system of the tooth.
- Irrigate the root canal system with germ-killing medicine.
- Fill the root canals with a rubber-like material called gutta percha to seal the apex of the roots.
- Cover the access with a temporary filling until a permanent filling or crown can be placed.
What Happens After Root Canal Treatment:
- The tooth and surrounding area may be a little tender for a few days. Your dentist will talk to you about what you can do to lessen the discomfort.
- Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics due to the nature of the infection.
A tooth that has had root canal therapy can last a lifetime. It is always important to maintain good oral hygiene habits and visit your dentist regularly to ensure optimal oral health.