What Is Root Canal?


Teeth are not supposed to hurt. When they do, the type of pain you experience will often point right to the specific problem. This is particularly true of teeth in need of root canal treatment for which an infection or inflammation in the pulp is always the underlying cause. 

Numerous things can cause the trouble. Teeth that have undergone numerous dental procedures are frequently at risk, as are those that are chipped, cracked, or deeply decayed. An injury can damage the pulp as well, and this can be the case even in teeth for which no obvious cracks or chips exist to tell the tale. 

A tooth in need of root canal will usually present the sufferer with at least one of the following symptoms: 

  • Sensitivity to hot or cold substances.
  • Tenderness
  • Discomfort when chewing.
  • Swelling of the jaw and possibly the lymph nodes.
  • A discharge of pus into the mouth.
  • Pain that is often severe.

In rare cases, a tooth in need of root canal treatment will exhibit no symptoms whatsoever. Nevertheless, the lack of discomfort does not mean that the trouble will resolve itself or that it is something that you can safely ignore. If left untreated, abscessed teeth can be dangerous. In fact, as recently as two centuries ago, they ranked fifth among the commonest causes of death. Needless to say, extractions were also prevalent during that time. Thanks to modern endodontic treatment, today's sufferers can expect a far rosier outcome.  

How Root Canal Treatment Can Save a Tooth

Somewhat more complicated than getting a dental filling, root canal treatment consists of several steps. The dentist will begin by carefully examining the tooth, probably consulting an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. If the trouble is truly on the inside, he will administer a local or general an anesthetic before performing the following steps.

1. To start, your dentist will isolate the tooth by placing a protective rubber sheet around it. This will ensure that the area remains dry and free of further contamination.

2. He will then open the crown of the tooth to access the pulp, placing the entry point on the biting surface if the tooth is a molar or on the back for a canine or incisor. If he encounters any existing decay, he'll remove it at this point. 

3. Once he has accessed the affected tooth's interior, the dentist must determine how many canals it truly contains. The count may vary from one person to another. Incisors and canines will usually contain only one canal, but premolars sometimes have two and molars could incorporate three, four or even more. A surgical microscope may assist in examining the floor of the pulp chamber to discover any smaller canals that might otherwise remain unseen. 

4. It will now be time to clean and flush the pulp chamber. This involves removing both live and dead nerve tissue, bacteria, debris and toxins as well as the pulp itself. At this time, the dentist will also reshape the canals, enlarging and flaring them in preparation for receipt of the filling material. 

5. Once he has cleaned and properly shaped the interior spaces of the tooth, your dentist may choose to insert medication to assist in killing any remaining bacteria. He will either leave the tooth open to drain or place a temporary filling, and if the infection has spread into the bone or surrounding tissue, he may prescribe a course of antibiotics. 

6. At the next appointment, he will fill the tooth's interior with a rubber-like biomedical material known as gutta percha along with an adhesive cement to hold it all in place. Since the tooth no longer contains a nerve, this step should cause no discomfort.

Restoring the Tooth After Root Canal

Teeth that have undergone root canal treatment have not usually been in the best of shape to begin with. They may already contain large fillings or suffer from general weakness due to extensive decay. Overall, most will require some sort of restoration following the procedure, and this will consist of the placement of an attractive gold or porcelain crown. Sometimes a post will be inserted first for support if the underlying structure should require it.

Following the root canal treatment and restoration, your newly crowned tooth should not only present an attractive cosmetic appearance but also work just like a natural tooth. You may experience some sensitivity for a few days after the procedure, but discomfort will rarely continue beyond that length of time.

While most teeth respond well to root canal treatment, some few will not. This can be the case if the tooth's root has suffered a fracture, its canals are inaccessible or the surrounding bone has receded to the point at which it can no longer offer sufficient support. If the problem is caught in time, however, nearly every tooth can enjoy a new lease on life.

If you are experiencing dental pain, don't sit and hope that the problem will resolve itself. If it's dental in nature, the odds are overwhelming that it won't. Luckily, root canal treatment could save that troublesome tooth, so call Dr. White today for an evaluation.