Root canal treatment is used to save teeth which would otherwise need to be removed.
It is needed when the blood or nerve supply of the tooth (known as the pulp) is infected through decay or injury.
Sometimes, due to trauma or decay the “nerve” inside the tooth dies off (please do not confuse that with your “tooth” being dead, that is simply not true!). Any passing bacteria find this a source of nourishment and proceed to munch on the dead nerve and quickly reproduce. Your body can’t do anything about this infection because along with the nerve dying, the blood supply to the tooth dies off too, so the body can’t send in some antibacterial cells (white blood cells) to attack the bacteria. Eventually, the bacteria start to spill out of the tooth and into the tiny space between the tooth and the jawbone. This starts an abscess, the body reacts to the invasion by pouring in defensive cells, which kill most of the bugs in the area, but still can’t get to the source of the problem, which is in the tooth.
Some indications for a root canal are:
- Pain while biting
- Sensitivity to hot or cold
- Deep decay
- Blunt injury to the tooth
Your dentist will thoroughly examine your tooth to determine if the nerve is infected. The exam includes x-rays and checking the health of the tooth with a pulp tester. Additionally your doctor may also apply cold and heat, tap on the tooth to see if sensitive or press gently on gums around tooth to check for pain.
The treatment can take from one to three visits during which typical treatment involves:
- Making an opening through the crown of the tooth and into the pulp chamber
- Removing the pulp. The root canal is cleaned, enlarged and shaped to a form that can be filled.
- (Optionally) Placing medication into the pulp chamber and root canal to help get rid of any germs and prevent infection.
- Placing a temporary filling in the crown opening to protect the tooth before your next visit. Alternatively, your doctor may leave the tooth open for a few days to drain.
- Filling and sealing the pulp chamber and root canals.
- Removing the temporary filling, followed by cleaning and filling of the pulp chamber.
- And finally, placing a gold or porcelain crown over the tooth.