A root canal is a treatment for damaged or infected teeth. During the procedure, a dentist clears away infected root pulp and preserves the natural tooth to keep your smile intact.
When Root Canals Are Used
Root canals are performed by dentists or endodontists. A root canal is a specific type of endodontic treatment, which comes from the Greek word for “inside” (endo) and the Greek word for tooth (odont). Endodontic treatments typically deal with the inside of the tooth, or what is known in dentistry as the root or pulp of the tooth. Pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The pulp helps develop the hard outer shell of the tooth as it erupts in the mouth.
The pulp of a tooth can become infected or inflamed. This can occur for several reasons, including injuries, cracks, or chips in the tooth. It can also be caused by previous dental procedures.
Most people who end up needing root canal treatments come to the dentist with tooth pain, temperature sensitivity, or pain in the gums.
A root canal is an alternative for tooth extraction, which completely removes the infected tooth from the mouth. Saving the natural tooth can help preserve the alignment of the teeth. It can also prevent the development of an abscess, which is a pus-filled pocket around the tooth’s roots. This spreads the infection, which can lead to bone loss, issues in the face and head, and drainage into the skin.
How Root Canals Work
Once your dentist or endodontist has determined that an infected tooth requires a root canal procedure, you’ll most likely be booked in for another appointment for the root canal. Before the root canal, your dentist will take x-rays to examine where the decay has occurred and the shape of the roots.
A root canal procedure typically begins with local anesthesia. A rubber dam is placed in the mouth to keep the area dry and clean. The dentist will then drill into the tooth to access the root of the tooth. The pulp, infected tissue, and nerve tissue are removed from the tooth using root canal files.
After this, the area is thoroughly flushed and cleaned. In some cases, the dentist will permanently fill and seal the hole right away. In other cases, he or she will want you to come back about a week later so the area can be checked and permanently filled and sealed. If this is the chosen route, a temporary filling will be placed in the hole until your next appointment.
At your next appointment, the dentist will use a rubber-like material called gutta percha to fill and seal the hole, along with a sealer paste. Finally, a permanent filling will be placed in the exterior hole that was drilled in the tooth.
Root Canal FAQ
What are the signs of an infected tooth?
Infected teeth typically present with several symptoms that you may notice. These include:
- Pain when biting or chewing
- Ongoing tooth sensitivity, especially to cold and heat
- Painful gums
- Pimples on the gums
- Darkened, inflamed, or infected gums
- Chips or cracks on the teeth
Which kind of dentist will perform a root canal?
Typically, general dentists will be able to perform root canals at dental clinics. However, if your dentist believes the extraction may be more complex, you may be referred to an endodontist, a dentist with more a specific educational background in treating tooth pain through root canal procedures.
Will general or local anesthesia be used?
In most cases, root canals are performed after a local anesthetic has been applied. In some very rare cases, your dentist may use general anesthesia. However, risks are greater with general anesthesia, so local anesthesia is typically recommended.
How can my natural tooth be saved once the pulp is removed?
The tooth pulp is necessary for the development of teeth. It contributes to the creation of the hard shell of the tooth. However, once the tooth is mature, it can continue to function and survive without the pulp inside.
Are there alternatives to root canals?
Another option your dentist may recommend for an infected or damaged tooth is tooth extraction. In this case, the tooth will be removed and a bridge, denture, or implant will be used to fill the space. Meanwhile, a root canal works to save the tooth, which means less restorative work is needed. Root canals are typically less expensive, and there is less recovery time.
Be sure to discuss the options with your dentist, including all associated risks, costs, timelines, and potential future dental work needed.
How can I avoid root canals?
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Remember to brush and floss regularly. When you feel pain or irregularities in your mouth, book an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible.
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