What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is the most commonly performed endodontic procedure and involves treating problems within the soft core of the tooth, also known as the dental pulp. The dental pulp is the soft tissue found inside the tooth from the top all the way down to the end of the root, and contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue that provide nutrients to the tooth as it grows.
As teeth grow, the pulp provides nourishment and helps the tooth develop properly. But once the tooth is fully functioning, the nerve within it is not vital to the tooth’s ability to function and instead just serves sensory functions such as detecting the sensation of hot or cold. Therefore, the nerve and surrounding tissue can be removed from the tooth to repair and save the tooth from an infected pulp. The mature tooth will be able to survive without the pulp.
The pulp is most commonly damaged by an untreated cavity that allows bacteria to eat through the enamel of the tooth and eventually infect the pulp within it. The pulp can also be damaged by trauma to the tooth that cuts off the blood supply to the tooth and causes the pulp tissue to die. Although the pulp is no longer needed to supply fully developed teeth with nutrients, it will gradually abscess if left damaged within the tooth. Pus will build up within the root and surrounding tissue, causing pain and potentially permanent damage to the supporting bone.
If left untreated, pus may build up within the root tip and form an abscess that can damage the bone around the teeth, causing pain and the potential for permanent damage.
Symptoms of Damaged Pulp
Patients with damaged pulp may experience:
- Severe toothache
- Prolonged sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Discoloration of their tooth
- Intraoral and facial swelling
- Tenderness to touch and biting
- Draining fistula in the gum tissue
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your dental pulp may be infected. It is important to seek prompt treatment to help relieve symptoms and prevent permanent damage.
Root Canal Procedure
A root canal is usually performed in a series of separate visits to your dentist’s office to first remove the diseased pulp, and then clean and seal the tooth to prevent further damage from occurring.
During your first office visit, your dentist will make an opening in the tooth and into the pulp chamber, where the damaged pulp is removed. The canals of the tooth root are then cleaned and shaped to prepare for a filling material. A temporary filling will then be placed in the opening to protect the tooth in between appointments. Your dentist may also prescribe medication to control the infection and promote healing.
At your next appointment, the temporary filling will be removed and the pulp chamber and root canals are thoroughly cleaned and filled. The pulp chamber is usually filled with a biocompatible, rubber-like material called gutta-percha, which is cemented to the tooth with a sealer paste. The final step of the root canal procedure is to restore full function to the tooth by placing a crown, post or other restorative material.
Although many patients associate the root canal procedure with major pain and discomfort, it is usually not painful. Local anesthesia is used to numb the affected area, although it is sometimes not even needed since the nerve tissue is dead. However, anesthesia often helps patients relax and relieves any anxieties they may have.
Results of Root Canal
A root canal is considered a highly successful treatment, with most patients experiencing complete relief from their symptoms. A crown or filling can usually help repair the appearance of the treated tooth so that other people won’t even realize that a root canal was performed.
The results of a root canal procedure can be permanent, as long as the patient practices healthy teeth and gum habits and sees the dentist on a regular basis.
Risks Associated with Root Canal
Although most root canal procedures are performed successfully with no complications, there is always a risk that the treated tooth will become infected again in the future, especially if multiple root canals have been performed on the same tooth. There is also a small risk of damaging the tooth during the procedure, although this rarely occurs.
You can reduce any risks associated with a root canal and help make the procedure as effective and painless as possible by choosing a reliable and experienced endodontist to perform your procedure.
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