Root canals get a bad rap – but the goal of the procedure is to save a tooth that is severely infected. A dentist performs the procedure to remove bacteria and dying or dead tissue from inside the tooth. Modern techniques and technology have helped root canals evolve into relatively comfortable treatments that often require no more than one or two trips to the dentist. We take a look at what a root canal is, why it is necessary and what happens during one.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. During a root canal procedure, the nerve and pulp are removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed. Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form. “Root canal” is the term used to describe the natural cavity within the center of the tooth. The pulp or pulp chamber is the soft area within the root canal. The tooth’s nerve lies within the root canal. A tooth’s nerve is not vitally important to a tooth’s health and function after the tooth has emerged through the gums. Its only function is sensory — to provide the sensation of hot or cold. The presence or absence of a nerve will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the tooth.
When is treatment needed?
Usually, root canals are recommended or needed when there is an infection deep within the tooth. The pulp inside the tooth can become irritated, inflamed and infected with bacteria due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a tooth, and/or large fillings, a crack or chip in the tooth, trauma to the face or because of a severe, untreated cavity. When a tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess occurs when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. Without treatment, the infection can become severe enough that the tooth has to be removed.
How is a root canal performed?
A root canal is essentially a four-step process. Treatment is usually performed over two office visits. Here are the common steps:
- 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 dental professional might place a dental dam, a small sheet of rubber that isolates the tooth to keep it clean and dry during the procedure.
- Your dentist will then use very small tools, such as a small drill, to access the inside of the tooth by creating an opening in the top portion of the tooth. Next, the dentist will use small files to clear away the damaged and diseased pulp from the inside of the tooth. They will also use the files to shape the inner chamber of the tooth and root and might irrigate the chamber with water to wash away any remaining pulp. Your dentist might also put an antimicrobial solution in the chamber to kill any remaining bacteria and reduce the risk for further infection.
- Once the chamber is thoroughly cleaned and dried, the dentist will fill it. A rubber-like material is often used. 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.
How successful are root canals?
Root canal treatment is highly successful. The procedure has more than a 95 percent success rate, and many teeth repaired with a root canal can last a lifetime. Also, because the final step of the root canal procedure is application of a restoration such as a crown or a filling, it will not be obvious to onlookers that a root canal was performed.
What do I need to do after the procedure?
Taking good care of your teeth and gums is a must after a root canal. You might need to schedule an additional visit with your dentist to X-ray the treated tooth and to make sure that all signs of infection are gone, in addition to twice-yearly dental cleanings and exams. It’s important to keep up a good oral care routine at home, including brushing twice a day with a toothpaste that fights germs for 12 hours. With care and attention, a tooth treated with a root canal can stay healthy for the rest of your life.
Do you have questions about root canals? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.