Root canal therapy is needed when the nerve of a tooth is affected by decay or infection. In order to save the tooth, the pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth), nerves, bacteria, and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled with a biocompatible material and specialized cement to ensure complete sealing of the root canal spaces.
Having a root canal done on a tooth is often the treatment of choice to save a tooth that is dead or dying and would otherwise have to be removed. Many patients believe that removing a tooth that has problems is the solution, but what is not realized is that extracting (pulling) a tooth will ultimately be more costly and cause significant problems for adjacent teeth.
Root canal treatment is highly successful and usually lasts a lifetime, although on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to new infections.
Signs and symptoms for possible root canal therapy:
- An abscess (or pimple) on the gums
- Severe sensitivity to hot and cold
- Severe toothache/pain
- Sometimes no symptoms are present but an infection is shown on an x-ray
- Swelling and/or tenderness
Reasons for root canal therapy:
- Decay has reached the tooth pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth)
- Infection or abscess have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip
- Injury or trauma to the tooth
What does root canal therapy involve?
While the tooth is numb, a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva. An access opening is made on top of the tooth and a series of root canal files are placed into the opening, one at a time, removing the pulp, nerve tissue, and bacteria from the root canal spaces. The root canal spaces also are thoroughly rinsed with a disinfectant.
After the root canal spaces are clean, they are filled with a biocompatible material and specialized cement to ensure a complete seal.
A filling will be placed to cover the opening on top of the tooth. In addition, most back teeth and some front teeth that have root canal treatment should have a crown (cap) placed. This will protect the tooth and prevent it from breaking, and restore it to its full function. You will be given care instructions after each appointment. Good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits will aid in the life of your root canal treatment.