Root canal therapy is needed when the the pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth) is affected by decay, trauma or infection.  In order to save the tooth, the pulp (including the nerves), bacteria and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled and sealed with special dental materials.

Having a root canal treatment done on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would 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 and opposing teeth.

Root canal treatment is highly successful and usually lasts a lifetime, although on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to recurring infections.

Signs and symptoms for possible root canal therapy:

  • Lingering sensitivity to hot and/or cold.
  • Severe, spontaneous  toothache.
  • Sensitivity to chewing on the tooth.
  • Swelling and/or tenderness.
  • Darkening of one tooth (often without symptoms).
  • An abscess (or pimple) on the gums.
  • Sometimes no symptoms are present, but the x-ray reveales the abscess (infection).

Reasons for root canal therapy

  • Physical irritation from a very large and deep filling.
  • Decay has reached the tooth pulp.
  • Infection or abscess have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip.
  • Trauma to the tooth - a physical blow (with or without fracture) or constant, heavy grinding.

What does root canal therapy involve?

A root canal treatment requires one or more appointments.

While the tooth is numb, a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and to isolate it from the rest of the oral cavity.  An access opening is made into the tooth and a series of root canal files are used, one at a time, removing the pulp and bacteria.  If tooth decay is present, it will also be removed with special dental instruments.

Once the root canals are thoroughly cleaned and properly shaped, they will be sealed with special dental materials.  A filling will be placed to cover the access opening.

If an additional appointment is needed, a temporary filling will be placed after the initial appointment.

In addition, most teeth that have root canal treatment should have a crown (cap) placed, because a root canal treated tooth is more brittle than a live one.  The crown will protect the tooth and prevent it from breaking and restore it to its full function.

After treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive, but this will subside as the inflammation or infection diminishes and the area surrounding the tooth has healed.

In case of an infection we usually prescribe antibiotics as well.  Occasionally we choose to refer the patient to an endodontist (a root canal specialist).

You will be given care instructions after each appointment.  Good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits will aid in the life of your root canal treatment.

Dental Health

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