What is Root Canal Therapy?
Root canal therapy (also known as endodontic treatment) is a common dental procedure that saves teeth when a filling isn’t enough to get the job done. This procedure has gained an undeserved reputation for being painful and has suffered through a lot of misinformation in recent years. In actuality, root canal therapy has become a painless way to save teeth and keep you smiling for years to come.
Patients may encounter the option to either extract a tooth or save the tooth with a root canal. Often, extractions are chosen by patients who are afraid of having a root canal or who don’t think they can afford a root canal and, potentially, a crown. However, it is best to choose a root canal over an extraction whenever possible.
While prosthetics such as dental implants, partials, or bridges can restore the function and look of your tooth, saving your existing tooth is more cost-beneficial in the end and is the only option for something that feels like your tooth.
What is the root canal of the tooth?
In order to understand how root canal therapy works, it’s important to first understand the anatomy of your teeth.
Teeth have four basic parts, three of which work to protect the innermost section called the pulp chamber. The enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. Enamel a thin, protective covering for the dentin within and is what you think of as your tooth. Below the gums, another protective layer called cementum works to cover the roots of the teeth.
The pulp chamber is where the nerves and blood vessels of your tooth are contained, and help to support the tooth within the jawbone. Depending on which tooth needs treatment, there can be between one and four roots. If trauma or infection gets past these protective barriers and into the pulp chamber, a root canal may be needed to restore your oral health.
When do I need a root canal procedure?
If the pulp of the tooth experiences inflammation, infection or trauma – usually caused by severe decay, repeated procedures on that tooth – a root canal may be needed to save the tooth. If left untreated, the pulp may cause pain and cause an abscess to form.
Some common symptoms patients experience before a root canal diagnosis often include:
- Intense pain when biting down or chewing
- Pimples on the gums
- Chips or cracks in the enamel
- Lasting sensitivity to cold, heat, or even sweet, long after the sensation has been removed
- Swollen or painful gums
- Deep decay or tooth darkening around the gum line
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to contact your dentist for an exam to determine the cause of your pain and discomfort.
How can a root canal save your tooth?
Once your permanent teeth are in, you no longer need the pulp for the tooth to thrive and so it is possible to clean out the pulp chamber and save your tooth. Sometimes root canal therapy is combined with a crown if too much of the tooth’s outer surface is decayed or damaged. Most root canal treatments take between two to three visits to complete.
Here’s how it works:
- An exam and x-rays will help the dentist determine the depth of your tooth’s roots.
- We’ll get you numb to help you from feeling any pain during your visit.
- A protective barrier is fitted around the tooth that needs treatment and will protect it from both saliva and bacteria during the procedure.
- Any existing decay is removed and an opening is created in the crown of the tooth.
- During the procedure, the tooth is flushed out, cleaned and dried as many times as necessary to prevent infection-causing bacteria.
- Using a special file, your dentist carefully removes the pulp from the root canal channels and gets it into shape.
- A body-friendly material is used to fill in the canals to maintain their shape. If the tooth lacks sufficient structure, sometimes a small post is placed in with the filling material to better support the future crown.
- A filling will be placed to seal the interior of the tooth – if your root canal needs a crown, this filling is temporary and will be replaced when the final crown arrives.
- Once the final crown is in place, you’ll be able to eat, speak and smile comfortably for years to come.
Because every patient is unique, sometimes teeth with especially difficult-shaped roots will need to be referred to an endodontist, or a dentist who specializes exclusively in root canals.
Visit our Root Canal FAQ page for more information on root canals.