Root Canal Therapy

What is root canal therapy?

A root canal is done to correct problems of  the soft tissue inside the center of the tooth -- the dental pulp. Dental pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Teeth with abscessed or infected nerves were once removed. But now the natural tooth can often be saved through modern endodontic procedures. Also called pulp specialists, endodontists have specialized training in root canal therapy.

What causes pulpal nerve damage?

The most common causes of pulp nerve damage are:

  • Infection. This is often caused by tooth decay (cavity) reaching the nerve or a cracked tooth. This can allow harmful bacteria to reach the nerve, resulting in infection and decay.

  • Trauma. A blow to a tooth or the jaw can cause damage to sensitive nerve tissue within the tooth.

What are the signs and symptoms of pulpal nerve damage?

These are the most common signs and symptoms of pulp nerve damage:

  • Pain in the tooth when biting down

  • Tooth pain while chewing

  • Spontaneous, unprovoked pain

  • Oversensitivity of the teeth with hot or cold drinks

  • Facial swelling

The signs and symptoms of pulp nerve damage may look like other oral health conditions. See a dentist, or other oral health specialist, for diagnosis.

Why is root canal therapy needed?

Without treatment, the infected dental pulp will spread to the bone around the tooth. This makes it unable to hold the tooth in place.

What does the root canal procedure involve?

First, you will be given medicine so you sleep through the procedure. Treatment begins with drilling an opening in the top of the tooth (crown) to give access to the pulpal tissue. Once the affected pulpal tissue is exposed, it is removed. The area surrounding and containing the pulp tissue is carefully cleaned, enlarged, and shaped to provide a clean surface for filling with a permanent filler to stop any further infection and pain. After the root canal is filled and sealed, a crown is made to restore the natural tooth and prevent it from fracturing. The root canal may be done in one or more visits. Once the tooth is comfortable, the crown can be placed.

What post-operative care is needed following a root canal?

Once the root canal therapy is done, there will be changes to adapt to, including:

  • Brittleness. A pulpless tooth is more brittle than a non-treated tooth and great care should be taken to avoid fracture and chipping. The tooth is restored with a crown to prevent fracture.

  • Discoloration. A non-vital tooth may become discolored over time, but it can be treated with internal bleaching. In most cases, the discoloration poses no threat to the health of the tooth.

In addition, soft tissue inflammation may be a source of irritation in the weeks after surgery. See your dentist, or other oral health specialist, for a treatment approach to help control any swelling and discomfort after surgery.