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Root Canal Therapy

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 special, medicated, dental materials, which restore the tooth to its full function.

Having a root canal done on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would die and 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 (swelling or pimple) on the gums.
  • Lingering pain to hot and cold.
  • Severe, spontaneous toothache.
  • Indication of infection in X-ray.
  • Pain/tenderness when biting.

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?

A root canal procedure requires one or more appointments.  Commonly, if the patient is experiencing painful symptoms, antibiotics are prescribed before and during the procedure.

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 in the top of the tooth and a series of root canal instruments are used to widen the space.  Concurrently, a disinfecting solution is used to help remove the pulp, nerve tissue, and bacteria.  

Once the canal is thoroughly cleaned and dried,  it will be sealed with either permanent filling or, if additional appointments are needed (generally due to significant infection) a temporary medicated filling will be placed in the canals.  Dental cement is commonly used to fill the access opening temporarily.

At the next appointment, the inside cavity of the tooth and opening in the top will be filled and sealed with bonded dental core material.    In addition, almost every tooth thats undergoes root canal treatment should have a crown (cap) placed.  This will protect the tooth and lessen the chance of fracture.

After treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive, but this will subside as the inflammation diminishes and the tissues around the tooth heals.

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.