Root canal therapy is needed when the nerve of a tooth is affected by decay or infection. In order to save the tooth, the pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth), nerves, bacteria, and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled with special, medicated, dental materials, which restore the tooth to its full function.
Having a root canal done on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would die and have to be removed. Many patients believe that removing a tooth that has problems is the solution, but what is not realized is that extracting (pulling) a tooth will ultimately be more costly and cause significant problems for adjacent teeth.
Root canal treatment is highly successful and usually lasts a lifetime, although on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to new infections.
Signs and symptoms for possible root canal therapy
An abscess (or pimple) on the gums
Sensitivity to hot and cold
Severe toothache pain
Swelling and/or tenderness
Sometimes no symptoms are present.
Reasons for root canal therapy
Decay has reached the tooth pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth).
Infection or abscess has developed inside the tooth or at the root tip.
Injury or trauma affected the tooth.
What root canal therapy involves
A root canal procedure, which requires one or more appointments, can be performed by a dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist).
While the tooth is numb, a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva. An access opening is made on top of the tooth and a series of root canal files are placed into the opening, one at a time, removing the pulp, nerve tissue, and bacteria. If tooth decay is present, it will also be removed with special dental instruments.
Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it will be sealed with either a permanent filling or, if additional appointments are needed, a temporary filling.
At the next appointment, usually a week later, the roots and the inside cavity of the tooth will be filled and sealed with special dental materials. A filling will be placed covering the opening of the tooth. It is recommended that all teeth that have root canals should be capped with a crown in order to protect them from breaking and to fully restore their function.
After treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive, but this will subside as the inflammation diminishes and the tooth heals. You will be given homecare instructions after each appointment. Good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits are always recommended.