What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal, also known as endodontic therapy, is a dental procedure designed to save your tooth from an extract. This dental therapy can save teeth that would otherwise be lost due to decay or damage. If your tooth is severely damaged, endodontic therapy may be the only alternative to losing your tooth.
Endodontics is a specialized branch of dentistry focusing on disease and injury to the pulp of the teeth. If you need endodontic therapy, it will likely be performed by an endodontist. Here’s how the procedure is performed and when it’s needed.
What Is an Endodontic Treatment?
This procedure removes the pulp of your tooth, which is the tissue at the very center. This is done when the pulp has died or become diseased or damaged. Once removed, the space inside the tooth is cleaned, shaped, and filled by the dentist to seal off the canal. This procedure must be done in several steps that may require one to three dentist visits.
During the first phase, an opening will be made through the crown of a premolar or molar or through the back of the tooth. A pulpectomy is performed to remove diseased or dead pulp before the chamber is cleaned and enlarged. This prepares the inside of your tooth for a filling.
Sometimes a temporary filling is placed to protect your tooth until the chamber can be permanently filled. In most cases, though, the canal will be filled right after the pulpectomy with gutta-percha, a rubber-like material. If your tooth needs support, a tiny rod may be placed in the canal.
The last step is producing and fitting a permanent crown over the tooth. This will restore the tooth’s natural appearance and shape. If your tooth was damaged by decay or injury before the endodontic treatment, a post might be necessary before a crown can be placed. Some dentists offer same-day crown service, but others require a follow-up appointment so the crown can be made in a lab.
When Is Endodontic Therapy Necessary?
This dental treatment will be necessary when the pulp in your tooth is infected or inflamed due to deep decay. When a tooth has a cavity, chip or crack, bacteria can enter the tooth and invade the pulp. The infection in the tooth can also spread around the tip of the root, in which case it’s called an abscessed tooth. An abscess can even spread beyond the tooth and lead to serious or life-threatening complications.
You may have an abscessed tooth if you experience:
- Throbbing or persistent toothache that may radiate to your jaw, ear, or neck
- Sensitivity to pressure during chewing
- Sensitivity to hot and cold
- Facial swelling
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck
- Swelling or a visible lump on your gums near a problematic tooth
A sudden rush of foul-tasting and salty fluid in your mouth and relief from pain. This can happen when an abscess ruptures.
There may be other reasons you need endodontic treatment. This procedure may be required after multiple dental procedures on the same tooth, a large chip or crack in the tooth, a failed dental crown, or injury to the tooth. Sometimes a tooth injury that does not cause visible cracks or chips still damages the sensitive pulp tissue inside the tooth.
Endodontic therapy is a familiar source of fear about dentistry. While many people think of pain when they think of endodontic treatment, the only pain you will feel is from the infection in your tooth. The procedure itself is painless as your dentist will fully numb your tooth and the surrounding area. Endodontic treatment is a way to get rid of your pain; it doesn’t add to it!
Why Choose Endodontic Therapy Over Extraction?
Endodontic treatment is undoubtedly more expensive than having an infected tooth pulled, but it offers many benefits. This procedure can save your natural tooth and:
- Maintain a natural appearance and smile
- Maintain your healthy biting sensation and force
- Allow you to chew efficiently
- Protect surrounding teeth from strain and damage
If you have a tooth extracted and it isn’t replaced with a dental implant or other orthodontic treatment, the surrounding teeth can shift out of place. It can also make it harder to keep your teeth clean and interfere with chewing and biting. Losing teeth also increases the risk of loss of bone in your jaw.
Recovering from Endodontic Treatment
Recovering from your procedure is typically short and easy. Your gums and lips will likely be numb for a few hours and you may experience throbbing pain as the anesthesia wears off. Over-the-counter pain medication or a stronger prescription from your dentist can help you stay comfortable for the next day or two. By the second day, you will probably feel back to normal. Remember that a tooth that has been treated with endodontic therapy will be more brittle in the future as it no longer has pulp to keep it alive.