What is a Root Canal?
Underneath your tooth’s outer enamel and within the dentin is an area of soft tissue called the pulp, which carries the tooth’s nerves, veins, arteries and lymph vessels. Tooth canals are very small, thin divisions that branch off from the top pulp chamber down to the tip of the root. A tooth has at least one but no more than four root canals.
Why do I feel pain?
When the pulp becomes infected due to a deep cavity or fracture that allows bacteria to seep in, or injury due to trauma, it can die. Damaged or dead pulp causes increased blood flow and cellular activity, and pressure cannot be relieved from inside the tooth. Pain in the tooth is commonly felt when biting down, chewing on it and applying hot or cold foods and drinks.
Why do I need root canal therapy?
A root canal is a procedure done to save an otherwise dying tooth. The dentist cleans out the diseased pulp and reshapes the canal. The canal is filled with gutta percha, a rubber-like material, to prevent recontamination of the tooth. The tooth is then permanently sealed with a post and/or a gold or porcelain crown. This enables patients to keep the original tooth.
What is involved in root canal therapy?
First, you will probably be given a local anesthetic to numb the area. A rubber sheet is then placed around the tooth to isolate it. Next, a gap is drilled from the crown into the pulp chamber, which, along with any infected root canal, is cleaned of all diseased pulp and reshaped. Medication may be inserted into the area to fight bacteria.
Depending on the condition of the tooth, the crown may then be sealed temporarily to guard against recontamination, or the tooth may be left open to drain, or the dentist may go right ahead and fill the canals.
If you’re given a temporary filling, it will usually be removed on the next visit. The pulp chamber and canals are filled with a rubber-like material to prevent recontamination. If the tooth is still weak, a metal post may be inserted above the canal filling to reinforce the tooth. Once, filled, the area is permanently sealed. Finally, a gold or porcelain crown is normally placed over the tooth to strengthen its structure and improve appearance.
What are the risks and complications?
About 95% of root canal treatments are successful. However, a case occasionally needs to be redone due to diseased canal offshoots or the fracturing of a canal filing instrument used in the procedure. These instances rarely occur. Occasionally, a root canal therapy will fail altogether, marked by a return of pain.
What happens after treatment?
Natural tissue inflammation may cause discomfort for a few days, which can be controlled by an over-the-counter analgesic. A follow-up exam can monitor tissue healing. From this point on, brush and floss regularly, avoid chewing hard foods on the treated tooth, and see your dentist regularly.
* Courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry