A standard dental procedure that may cause fear or worry in patients is the root canal treatment. Despite its negative reputation, a root canal is a relatively comfortable and straightforward procedure that can save an irreversibly damaged tooth.

What is root canal treatment?

A root canal is a dental procedure that involves removing the infected nerves and blood vessels from the inner part of the tooth and filling it in with filling material. This procedure is sometimes necessary to save a tooth that has experienced trauma.

When does a tooth need a root canal?

 

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When does a tooth need a root canal?

The inner part of the tooth, called the pulp, is made up of living tissues, nerves and blood vessels. If a tooth experiences a trauma, the living tissues can become infected and start to die. Once this process begins, the tooth needs to be treated with either a root canal or it will need to be removed. Leaving an infected tooth in the mouth without addressing it can lead to pain, severe infection and is harmful to the overall health of the body.

Examples of trauma that can lead to a tooth needing a root canal:

  • A deep cavity or filling that reaches close to or into the pulp of the tooth.
  • Physical trauma to the tooth. Even if the injury does not cause the tooth to break, a hard blow to a tooth may cause it to abscess and die.
  • A broken or cracked tooth.
  • Repeated dental treatment on a tooth.

Signs you might need a root canal:

  • A “gum boil” or a pimple formed on the gum above a tooth. This is a sign of infection draining from the abscessed tooth.
  • Darkening of a tooth after an injury.
  • Severe tooth pain. If the infection is draining (gumboil) it is possible not to have pain.
  • Pain when chewing or when having hot foods or drinks.
  • Swelling of the face.

Why choose a root canal over having a tooth removed?

Saving your natural teeth will help to preserve your smile, bite and ability to chew and speak properly. Missing teeth can cause many problems including shifting of remaining teeth and jaw pain. Options for replacing missing teeth, such as implants, may be a more expensive option compared to a root canal treatment.

 

 What does a root canal treatment involve?

  • Exam and radiographs (x-rays) by the dentist to determine the problem and if root canal treatment is needed.
  • Local anesthetic. This numbs the area, ensuring the procedure will be very comfortable.
  • Removing the infected pulp, blood vessels, and nerves and cleaning out in the infection.
  • A dental material called gutta-percha is used to seal up the root canals and filling material is used to fill the tooth.
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This is all done in one or more appointments and is usually done in-office by the dentist. For more complicated cases, such as curved roots of teeth, a referral to a root canal specialist may be necessary. A root canal specialist is called an Endodontist, they are dentists with additional education and training.

If you think you might need a root canal, seek dental treatment right away. Dental infections can be serious if left untreated.