Left on its own, a badly decaying or damaged tooth risks becoming infected and spreading infection to the surrounding tissue. A root canal is a procedure designed to save the healthy part of the tooth and protect against further infection.
What is a root canal?
Inside each tooth is a natural cavity, called a “root canal” (think: canal with a root inside). The pulp or pulp chamber is the soft area within this root canal. The root canal is also home to the tooth’s nerve.
When a tooth becomes badly decayed or damaged, the damage begins to affect the tooth’s pulp and nerve, causing pain. A root canal procedure is designed to repair and save a badly decayed or infected tooth. During the procedure, the damaged area of the tooth (the pulp and nerve) is removed. The remaining parts of the tooth are cleaned and disinfected, and the tooth is then filled and sealed. Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth may become infected and an abscess may form.
The tooth’s nerve is not vital to the health and function of the tooth after it has emerged through the gums. Its only function is to provide the sensation of hot or cold. Thus, the presence or absence of a nerve within the root canal will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the tooth. A root canal procedure is a way to salvage remaining healthy parts of an otherwise damaged tooth.
Do I need a root canal?
There are many reasons why the pulp of the tooth may become damaged, including a cracked tooth, a deep cavity, repeated dental treatment to the same tooth, or trauma. People with these issues should talk to their dentist about all of their options, which may include a root canal procedure.
When a tooth is so badly damaged that it is affecting the tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp, bacteria begins to multiply within the pulp chamber. This bacteria and decaying tooth debris can leave the tooth vulnerable to an infection or otherwise painful circumstances, including abscess, swelling, bone loss or sinus problems.
What happens during a root canal?
Depending on individual circumstances, a root canal requires one or more office visits to the dentist. In general, a root canal procedure may look something like this:
Step One: X-ray
First, the dentist will take an X-ray to determine if there are any signs of infection in the bone surrounding the tooth.
Step two: Anesthesia
Anesthesia may be used to numb area around the tooth. While anesthesia may not be necessary because the nerve is dead, some dentists recommend it to make the patient feel more relaxed and at ease.
Step Three: Preparation
The dentist will dry the tooth and place a dental dam (a small sheet of rubber) around the tooth to keep it clean and free of saliva during the procedure.
Step Four: Cleaning
The dentist will use very small tools, such as a drill to access the inside of the tooth. He or she will then use a small file to clean away the damaged and diseased area. An antimicrobial may be used to kill any remaining bacteria and prevent further infection.
Step Five: Filling
Once the area is clean and dry, the dentist will then fill the root canal with a rubber-like material, called gutta percha. The tooth will be closed with a temporary filling while a permanent crown is being made.
Step Six: Permanent Restoration
After a few weeks, the dentist will finish the procedure by placing a permanent crown or other permanent restoration on the tooth.
A root canal procedure is a way to salvage healthy parts of an otherwise damaged tooth. If you have a painful, damaged tooth, give us a call to talk about your options.