Our teeth are meant to last us a lifetime. Though sometimes, damage occurs to a tooth (often from a deep cavity or an injury that causes a tooth to crack) and the inside of the tooth becomes infected. This infection damages the pulp of the tooth, the network of blood vessels and the nerves inside.
There’s no need to be worried if one of our doctors prescribe a root canal procedure to treat a damaged or diseased tooth. Each year, millions of teeth are saved this way, relieving pain and making teeth healthy again.
A root canal is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The infection can have a variety of causes such as deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, an injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause unnecessary pain.
Saving the natural tooth with root canal treatment has many advantages:
- Efficient chewing
- Normal biting force and sensation
- Natural appearance
- Protects other teeth from excessive wear or strain
Signs you may need a root canal:
- Tooth pain
- Prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold
- Tenderness to touch and chewing
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Swelling, drainage and tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gum tissues
Sometimes, there are no symptoms.
The American Association of Endodontists points out, a root canal is a four-step process:
- Using a needle, the dentist administers local anesthesia to numb the tooth. It’s common to feel a bit of a pinch in the area when the needle goes in. After the tooth is numb, the dentist may place a dental dam, a small sheet of rubber that isolates the tooth to keep it clean and dry during the procedure.
- The endodontist makes an opening in the crown of the tooth. Very small instruments clean the pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals to shape the space for filling.
- Once the chamber is thoroughly cleaned and dried, the dentist will fill the root canal with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. The gutta-percha is placed with an adhesive cement to ensure complete sealing of the root canal. Your dentist will close the opening in your tooth with a temporary filling, while you wait for the permanent crown.
- After a few weeks, your dentist will finish the treatment by placing a permanent crown or a similar type of restoration on the top of the tooth. Depending on the condition of your natural tooth, the dentist may need to place a small supporting post inside of the root chamber, to make the crown or restoration more stable.
Because of modern technology, root canals have evolved into comfortable treatments that often require no more than one or two office visits. Getting a root canal helps you maintain your natural smile, continue eating the foods you love and limits the need for ongoing dental work. With proper care, most teeth that have had root canal treatment can last a lifetime.