Root canals are dental procedures designed to both repair and save a tooth that’s become infected or badly decayed. The procedure involves removing the pulp and the nerve from inside your teeth before cleaning and sealing the area. Failing to treat the tooth can result in infected tissue around the tooth, and an abscess may develop.
An actual “root canal” describes the naturally occurring cavity found in the middle of a tooth. The pulp is a soft area found within this canal, and the nerve of your tooth is found in the canal as well. The nerve found in your tooth isn’t essential to the health and function of a tooth. It simply functions to give you hot or cold sensations, so removing the nerve will not cause any functional problems.
Signs You Need a Root Canal
Some symptoms may indicate that you’re dealing with an infected nerve or a diseased tooth, and when this occurs, you could need a root canal. Symptoms may include:
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Pain in and around the tooth
- Signs of infection found on a radiograph
- Irritation and swelling of gum tissue surrounding the tooth
When these problems occur, dentists often recommend a root canal to help save the tooth and preserve tooth function. Millions of teeth are saved each year with the root canal procedure.
Importance of Removing the Tooth Pulp
Sometimes the pulp and nerve of a tooth can become infected, irritated, and inflamed due to large fillings, a chip or crack in a tooth, facial trauma, deep decay, or multiple dental procedures on the tooth. When the pulp or nerve tissue of your tooth becomes damaged, it starts breaking down, allowing bacteria to start multiplying within the tooth’s pulp chamber. The decayed debris and bacteria may result in an infection of the tooth or an abscess. Abscesses are pus-filled pockets that form at the end of the tooth roots, and they take place when infection spreads to the ends of the tooth’s roots. Along with abscesses, infection in the tooth’s root canal may result in:
- Swelling that spreads to other parts of the head, neck, or face
- Drainage issues that allow drainage into skin
- Bone loss around the tooth root
The Root Canal Procedure
Root canals generally take one to two visits to complete, and your dentist will get started by doing some x-rays to see how much damage has occurred. Next, an anesthetic will be applied to the area around the tooth to make sure you don’t feel any pain during the procedure. A rubber dam is placed around the tooth, which helps to keep the area free from saliva and dry.
Next, a hole is drilled into the tooth and the decayed nerve tissue, bacteria, and debris is removed from your teeth. Sometimes a medication may be put into the root canal and pulp chamber to make sure any infection is cleared up. After cleaning up and drying out the interior of the tooth, the empty root canals and pulp chamber are filled with a rubber compound and sealer paste. Then a dental filling is applied to keep saliva out of root canals.
The last step of the root canal is to restore your tooth. It’s important to protect the tooth from future damage and to ensure it can return to normal function. A crown is generally placed over the tooth. In most cases, porcelain crowns are used, since they can be tinted to closely match the rest of your teeth. In some cases, a metal post must be placed in the tooth to help keep the crown in place and offer structural support.
After a Root Canal
After a root canal, you may notice your tooth feels a bit sensitive, particularly if you had infection or pain before the procedure. Over the counter pain medications, such as Motrin or Aleve, can be used to control this discomfort. Until the permanent filling and crown have been placed, you should minimize the amount of chewing you do on the tooth being repaired.
The Success of Root Canals
Root canals are very successful, and the procedures have a success rate of over 95%. Many patients find that a tooth treated with a root canal lasts a lifetime. Because of the restorative step of the procedure, no one will ever know you had a root canal performed.
Whenever possible, saving your natural teeth is important. Root canals preserve natural teeth, making them a great choice. If you think you may need a root canal, call our office and set up an appointment today.