When a cavity or trauma to your tooth extends to the pulp that contains the nerves, connective tissues, and blood vessels, the damage to that tooth is usually considered to be severe enough to warrant its extraction, because it can no longer serve its functions properly. However, a successful root canal treatment allows you to treat that damaged tooth and keep it, rather than have it pulled out.
The term “root canal” refers to the cleaning of the canals within a tooth’s root. And this treatment does exactly that to get rid of all infections inside your tooth and effectively prevent further deterioration. Dental material is then used to restore the structure of the tooth and prevent bacteria from getting into the canals again.
Saving your natural tooth eliminates the need for replacing it with a prosthetic, while keeping the tooth in place helps to stop the adjacent teeth from drifting and causing a misaligned bite and other jaw problems.
Tooth root canal treatment
This dental procedure is used to treat infections that occur in the tooth pulp. The dental pulp is the region inside the tooth that extends from the crown of your tooth to the end of the root in the jawbone, and is made up of soft tissue that comprises nerves and blood vessels. It is surrounded by tooth dentin, which is in turn protected by the hard tooth enamel.
When the pulp is severely infected by bacteria such that it is unable to treat itself, it begins to die, and the bacteria begin to multiply and spread to the gums and other tissues.
If left untreated, the bacteria will eventually find their way to the end of the root canal, where nerves and blood vessels enter the tooth, causing the soft tissues around the tooth to turn red and become swollen. This is a common cause of severe tooth ache, and in serious cases, your face may become swollen.
Root canal treatment steps
To treat an infection in the root canal, you can either remove the tooth (extraction) or try to save it by removing the bacteria from the tooth pulp (root canal treatment). The procedure for a root canal treatment follows these steps:
Administration of an anesthetic to maintain patient comfort
Isolation of affected tooth from saliva using a dam (rubberlike sheet)
Formation of an opening via the crown of the tooth to remove the pulp. The root is then cleaned and shaped. Medication may be added to the root canal and pulp chamber to help eliminate bacteria.
The root canal is filled and sealed permanently. In some cases, the endodontist may place a metal or plastic rod in the root canal for structural support.
In the healing phase, you may have to take antibiotics to prevent an infection, or treat any existing infections and stop them from spreading beyond the root of the tooth.
After the procedure, the endodontist will probably refer you to a general dentist to prepare and place a crown on that tooth within two weeks.
Do I need a root canal – quiz?
The tooth’s nerve and pulp can be inflamed, infected, or irritated by deep decay, trauma to the face, a chip or crack in the tooth, or repeated dental procedures on the tooth. Any kind of exposure of the nerve often results in pulp tissue degeneration.
In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms, but there are some signs that can help you determine that you need root canal treatment.
Some of the questions to ask yourself include:
- Do I experience an intense toothache upon application of pressure, like chewing, on the affected tooth?
- Do I feel any swelling and/or tenderness in the surrounding gums?
- Is there any darkening or discoloration of the tooth? This may indicate pathological changes within the nerve space
- Are you experiencing continued sensitivity to cold or hot temperatures?
- Have you noticed recurring gum pimples due to an infection housed inside the tooth? – they usually occur at the tip of the tooth’s root
- Are you experiencing pain with discomfort that ranges from slight to extreme?
- DO you have a bad taste in the mouth?
The points above are good indicators of a severely damaged and/or infected tooth. In most cases, the pain tends to be debilitating, such that you will seek emergency dental care. Depending on your case, your dentist can choose either tooth removal or restoration with root canal followed by filling and/or crown placement. With the latter option, the restored tooth should be trouble free for decades, and even a lifetime with proper oral hygiene.