Perhaps you or someone you know has been told they will need root canal treatment. Maybe you're experiencing some unexplained tooth pain, and you think you might need to have this procedure done. Nervous? You shouldn't be! A good understanding of this common and relatively pain-free dental treatment can go a long way toward relieving your anxiety.
What's a root canal? It's the small, branching hollow space or canal, deep within the root of the tooth. Like an iceberg in the ocean, a tooth shows only part of its structure above the gum line: That's the part you see when you smile. But about two-thirds of the tooth — the part called the root — lies below the gum. A healthy root canal is filled with living pulp tissue, which contains tiny blood vessels, nerves and more.
A “root canal” is also shorthand for the endodontic treatment that's called for when problems develop with this tissue. For a variety of reasons — deep tooth decay or impact trauma, for example — the pulp tissue may become inflamed or infected. When this happens, the best solution is to remove the dead and dying tissue, disinfect the canals, and seal them up to prevent future infection.
How is this done? The start of the procedure is not unlike getting a filling. A local anesthetic is administered to numb the tooth and the nearby area. Then, a small opening is made through the chewing surface of the tooth, giving access to the pulp. A set of tiny instruments is used to remove the diseased tissue, and to re-shape and clean out the canals. Finally, the cleared canals are filled with a biocompatible material and sealed with strong adhesive cement.
After root canal treatment, it's important to get a final restoration or crown on the tooth. This will bring your tooth back to its full function, and protect it from further injury such as fracture. A tooth that has had a root canal followed by a proper restoration can last just as long as any other natural tooth. And that's a long time.
If you would like more information about root canals, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”