Root Canal Therapy Can Save Your Tooth

According to the American Dental Association

What you need to know about root canal therapy.

What is a root canal?

Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. If your tooth becomes diseased or injured, it can often be saved through root canal therapy. 

Your tooth may look like one solid piece, but it has many layers. There are two main parts of your tooth: the crown and the root. The crown is the part of the tooth you can see. The root is the part of the tooth below the gumline in the jaw bone.

The inside of the crown contains the pulp chamber, which continues toward the tip of the root in what is called the root canal. In each root, there may be one or more root canals. The root canals contain the dental pulp, which is made up of nerves and blood vessels and extends all the way to the tip of each root. When the pulp tissue becomes infected or inflamed, treatment is needed. Root canal therapy is a procedure that removes injured or infected dental pulp from the canal.

diagram of a healthy tooth


Common causes of disease or injury to the pulp are:

  • a cracked or chipped tooth
  • a deep cavity or filling
  • a leaking filling
  • complications from large fillings
  • other serious injury to the tooth

All of these can allow bacteria to enter the pulp and cause infection and inflammation.

Problems from infected or inflamed pulp

The infection and inflammation in the pulp can spread to the tissues around the root of the tooth. This can cause pain and swelling and can lead to a pus-filled sac called an abscess. But, even if there is no pain, bacteria from the infection can damage the bone that holds the tooth in your jaw. 

Without root canal therapy, the infection and damage will continue and your tooth most likely will need to be removed.

 

Endodontics

Endodontics (en-do-DON-tics) is the branch of dentistry that specializes in treating diseases of or injuries to the dental pulp. Endodontists are dentists who specialize in treating these diseases and injuries. Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist to perform your root canal therapy.

General steps of root canal therapy

Root canal therapy may involve one or more dental visits. Your dentist or endodontist will perform the necessary steps to save your tooth:

  1. Your tooth is numbed for your comfort. A thin, flexible sheet of latex or non-latex material called a dental dam is placed over your tooth to keep it dry. 
  2. An opening is made through the crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber. Your tooth’s pulp is removed from the pulp chamber and the canal of each root of the tooth. Each root canal is cleaned, shaped and disinfected so that it can be filled. 
  3. The treated root canals are filled with a rubber-like material to seal them. 
  4. A temporary filling is placed in your tooth to prevent infection of the root canals. 
  5. Finally, your dentist removes the temporary filling and restores the tooth with a crown or a permanent filling to recover its function and shape and improve the way it looks. If an endodontist performs the procedure, they usually recommend you return to your general dentist for this step.


For your root canal treatment to be successful, it is very important that you follow instructions from your dental team and attend all of your follow-up appointments.

After treatment

Most patients have very little or mild discomfort after treatment, which can usually be controlled with over-the-counter medication. Talk to your dentist about options for pain relief.

If you feel severe pain or pressure for more than a few days, have visible swelling or if your bite feels uneven, contact your dentist or endodontist. 


After your root canal procedure, avoid biting down or chewing with the affected tooth until it is fully restored with a crown. Make sure to continue brushing twice daily and cleaning between your teeth once a day to keep the area clean and free from infection. 

How long will the restored tooth last?

When properly restored and maintained, a tooth with a root canal filling can last for many years. But, like any other tooth, it can become decayed or fractured or the tissue around it can get gum disease. Professional cleanings and regular dental exams will help keep your mouth healthy — whether you’ve had root canal therapy or not. 

Root canal therapy

Tooth decay can cause an abscess.

The decay is removed and an opening is made through the crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber.

The pulp tissue inside the root is removed, and the root canals are cleaned, shaped and disinfected.

The root canals and pulp chamber are filled. If there is not enough tooth to hold the restoration, a metal rod (post) may be placed in the root canal to help retain the core (filling) material, which supports the restoration (crown).

The crown of the tooth is then restored. If bone is lost due to infection at the root tip, this will heal over several months after the root canal is cleaned and sealed.

steps involved in a root canal
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