Root canal therapy is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that would otherwise die as a result of infection or decay that has progressed far enough to reach the tooth’s nerve. Preserving the tooth is ideal because it eliminates the problems that a gap in the dental structure creates for the surrounding teeth—problems that quickly become more and more costly and inconvenient over the course of time.
In this procedure, the pulp of the tooth (the living tissue inside) is removed and the resulting space is filled with special, medicated, dental materials that restore the tooth to full function. Root canal therapy is a highly successful treatment that usually lasts a lifetime, and, thanks to modern advancements in dental medicine, the procedure is far more comfortable than it has been in the past.
There are a number of signs that suggest root canal therapy may be necessary:
- An abscess (or pimple) on the gums.
- Sensitivity to hot and cold.
- Severe toothache pain.
- Swelling or tenderness.
What can this procedure repair?
- Decay that has reached the tooth pulp.
- Infections or abscesses that have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip.
- Injury or trauma to the tooth.
How is this procedure done?
Root canal therapy can often be done in one appointment, though more appointments may be necessary. It is normally performed by a dentist or an endodontist, a specialist in root canal therapy. At your appointment, the dentist will numb the tooth and place a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva. The dentist will then create an access opening on the surface of the tooth, allowing for the placement of a series of root canal files. The pulp, nerve tissue, and any bacteria or tooth decay that may be present are then removed with specialized dental tools. After a thorough cleaning, the dentist will seal the tooth with a permanent filling, though a temporary filling may be necessary if additional appointments are required to properly clean and repair the tooth.
Once the root canal procedure is complete, the dentist will place a temporary crown on the tooth to protect it from breakage. Your regular dentist can then fit the tooth for a permanent crown that will return the tooth to its full, natural function.
What kind of follow up care should I expect?
Many patients find that their tooth is sensitive to heat and cold immediately following root canal therapy. This is temporary, and it will subside once the inflammation diminishes and the tooth has healed. The dentist will provide you with care instructions after each appointment throughout the process. It is also important to remember that good oral hygiene at home combined with regular dental visits are the very best way to secure the health and beauty of both your natural teeth and any dental restorations you may have. As with all restorative treatments, teeth restored through root canal therapy can last a lifetime, but may have to be retreated due to new infections.