Root canal treatment (also referred to as root canal therapy or endodontic therapy) is made necessary when a cavity is allowed, through neglect, to reach all the way to this pulp (regular cleanings and checkups prevent and detect problems early). Sometimes deep restorations or trauma to a tooth may cause the nerve to be damaged to the point it needs root canal therapy, also. Once this occurs the pulp becomes infected, and can even extend through the root tip and begin to eat away at the surrounding bone (this is an abscess).
By the time the pulp is infected it must be treated, and cannot heal on its own. It can even weaken the entire immune system. This is dangerous, not to mention very painful. Symptoms that the pulp has become infected may include sensitivity to hot/cold or sweets, pain, swelling, pain to biting or pressure, and a bad taste in the mouth. Sometimes, however, no symptoms are apparent and the person is unaware of any problem until a checkup.
Purpose and Procedure
Root canals unfortunately have a bad reputation, but this procedure is tremendously valuable for preserving biological teeth affected by advanced decay or infection, and it is not nearly as uncomfortable as most people perceive it to be. In fact, patients who undergo this treatment say that the sensation is comparable to having a cavity filled.
Root canals typically are performed in a dental office and completed within a relatively brief time period. After thoroughly anesthetizing the area, the dentist will create a small opening in the tooth to access the pulp chamber. Then, all of the infected tissue is removed and the empty chamber is cleaned thoroughly to remove any lingering bacteria.
The empty chamber is then filled with a rubber-like substance to reduce the risk of re-infection. Patients usually have crowns placed following a root canal, as the procedure can leave the tooth more susceptible to breakage. The crown makes the treated tooth stronger.
A dentist may be able to perform a root canal to save a tooth that is so severely damaged that it would otherwise need to be extracted. It is generally preferable to keep a biological tooth rather than remove it and replace it with a prosthetic.
Similarly, a root canal can help to strengthen a tooth that has been damaged by trauma that exposes the tooth’s pulp, which can also increase the risk of infection.
If you have any concerns about the prospect of a root canal or want to learn more about the process, we invite you to speak with a member of our experienced dental team, who can give you accurate information to put your mind at ease.