Root canal treatment is designed to eliminate bacteria from the infected root canal, prevent reinfection of the tooth and save the natural tooth. When one
undergoes a root canal, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the
inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed.What happens during root canal treatment? Learn more about this quick, comfortable procedure that can relieve your pain and save your natural tooth.
“Endo” is the Greek word for “inside” and “odont” is Greek for “tooth.” Endodontic treatment treats the inside of the tooth. Root canal treatment is one type of endodontic treatment. To understand endodontic treatment, it helps to know something about the anatomy of the tooth. Inside the tooth, under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin, is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue and creates the surrounding hard tissues of the tooth during development. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots where it connects to the tissues surrounding the root. The pulp is important during a tooth’s growth and development. However, once a tooth is fully mature it can survive without the pulp, because the tooth continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it.
Endodontic treatment (root canal) is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: 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 pain or lead to an abscess.
Signs to look for include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tenderness to touch and chewing, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling, drainage and tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gingival tissues. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms.
Truth—Root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain, it relieves it. The perception of root canals being painful began decades ago but with the latest technologies and anesthetics, root canal treatment today is no more uncomfortable than having a filling placed. In fact, a recent survey showed that patients who have experienced root canal treatment are six times more likely to describe it as “painless” than patients who have not had root canal treatment. Most patients see their dentist or endodontist when they have a severe toothache. The toothache can be caused by damaged tissues in the tooth. Root canal treatment removes this damaged tissue from the tooth, thereby relieving the pain you feel For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Follow your endodontist’s instructions carefully. Your tooth may continue to feel slightly different from your other teeth for some time after your endodontic treatment is completed. However, if you have severe pain or pressure or pain that lasts more than a few days, call your endodontist.
As shown in the diagram to the right, a tooth abscess is a collection of infected material or pus. An abscess can occur when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected and goes untreated. Endodontists specialize in treating the insides of teeth. Therefore an abscess is the type of condition where endodontic treatment can be helpful. How does endodontic treatment save the tooth? The endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleans and shapes the inside of the canal, a channel inside the root, then fills and seals the space. Afterwards, you will return to your dentist, who will place a crown or other restoration on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function. After restoration, the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.
Eighty percent of root canals are performed by General Dentists. Sometimes your General Dentist will recommend that your root canal be performed by an endodontist. Endodontists are dentists with at least two or three additional years of advanced specialty education in diagnosis and root canal treatment. Because they limit their practices to root canals (endodontics), they treat these types of problems every day. They use their special training and experience in treating difficult cases, such as teeth with narrow or blocked canals, or unusual anatomy. Endodontists may use advanced technology, such as operating microscopes, ultrasonics and digital imaging, to perform these special services.