Root Canals

Prior to recent advances in medicine, damage to the core of a tooth usually meant its quick removal. The modern solution is a root canal, known in the medical community as endodontic treatment. This procedure usually involves several trips to the dentist and is performed in the dentist’s chair. A root canal procedure cleans, disinfects, and refills the interior of the tooth, thereby preventing serious pain and permanent damage to decayed teeth.

Why It Happens

A root canal is usually performed on a cracked tooth or a tooth with a deep interior cavity. If a root canal is not performed, bacteria are able to enter the core of the tooth (the pulp) and cause decay of the nerve, tissue, and blood vessels in the tooth’s canal(s). If left untreated, the diseased tooth may become extremely sensitive to heat and cold may throb, or may even cause infection in the jawbone (an abscess).

The Surgery

During the surgical portion of a root canal, the decayed tooth is first anesthetized. A hole is made through the crown of the tooth, down into the pulp. The surgeon uses tiny metal instruments to extract the remaining pulp from the tooth and thoroughly cleans and disinfects the canal. If the tooth canal is twisted, the surgeon may have to enter the tooth through the gums to remove the difficult-to-reach pulp. Once cleaned out, the canal is reshaped to allow the surgeon to easily and completely fill the interior of the tooth. The canal is filled with a rubberized inert material that helps prevent future infection. A temporary seal protects the tooth until the patient can return to the dentist’s office. A permanent metal pin may be attached to the root of the tooth to provide long-term structural support.

On your follow-up visit, the temporary sealing is removed and a permanent crown or veneer is fitted on the tooth to permanently protect.

Health Risks

Although a root canal is a common procedure, complications may occur. These include bleeding, soreness in the jaw, infection, and a reaction to the anesthesia. Occasionally, the tiny metal instruments used to clean the canal break off inside the tooth. Although the surgeon can usually recover them, they may have to be permanently sealed up within the tooth, where they pose a very small chance of future infection. If the tooth is unable to be properly cleaned, or if bacteria has damaged the tooth beyond repair, the surgeon may have to extract the tooth. In order to maximize surgical success, always follow your dentist’s specific pre and postoperative instructions.