What You Need to Know About Root Canals
- What is a root canal?
- Why does a toothache cause pain?
- Why do I need root canal therapy?
- What is involved in root canal therapy?
- What happens after treatment?
Underneath your tooth’s outer enamel and within the dentin is an area of soft tissue called the pulp, which carries the tooth’s nerves, veins, arteries and lymph vessels. Root canals are very small, thin divisions that branch off from the pulp chamber down to the tip of the root. A tooth has at least one canal but many have 4 or more.
When the pulp becomes infected due to a deep cavity or fracture that allows bacteria to seep in, or injury due to trauma, it can die. Damaged or dead pulp causes increased blood flow, and this pressure cannot be relieved from inside the tooth. Pain in the tooth is commonly felt when biting down, chewing, or applying hot or cold foods and drinks.
Because the tooth will not heal by itself. Without treatment, the infection will spread, bone around the tooth will begin to degenerate, and the tooth may get loose and eventually fall out. Pain usually increases until one is forced to seek emergency dental care. The only healthy alternative is extraction of the tooth, which can cause surrounding teeth to shift, resulting in a bad bite. Though an extraction is cheaper, the space left behind will require an implant or a bridge, which is typically much more expensive than root canal therapy. Implants are great once your teeth are gone but if you have the choice, it’s always best to keep your original teeth.
First, a local anesthetic is given to numb the area. Once Dr. Fortman tests for depth of anesthesia a rubber sheet is placed around the tooth to isolate it and keep his instruments out of your mouth. Next, a small hole is drilled into the biting surface of the tooth and any affected tissue is cleaned and the canals reshaped. Disinfectants are used during reshaping to kill bacteria and remove residual pulp tissue. After the root filling is placed the access opening will be sealed with a temporary filling to guard against bacterial contamination until you can see your general dentist. If the treated tooth has not had a crown then your dentist will replace the missing tooth structure with a core build up and then a crown. If a crown is present it can often be saved and the access filled with a permanent filling.
Bite sensitivity, sore chewing muscles and jaw discomfort are the typical symptoms our patients report post treatment but only for a few days. This can commonly be controlled by an over-the-counter pain killer like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. On occasion a follow-up exam is scheduled to monitor tissue healing. Unless instructed not to do so brush and floss regularly, avoid chewing hard foods on the treated tooth, and see your dentist as soon as possible for your permanent restoration. See a more detailed list of instructions on our Post-Treatment Care page.