Root canal therapy is necessary when the nerve of a tooth has become injured by decay, infection, or trauma. Previously, if a tooth had a diseased or infected nerve, it would be removed. Today, root canal therapy is the treatment of choice in 90% of cases for teeth which would otherwise have to be extracted.
Root canal treatments are highly successful and usually last for the life of the tooth, although in rare instances, a tooth may need to be retreated due to new infection, or in the worst case scenario, extracted.
Symptoms for possible root canal therapy include: abscesses (swelling or pimple-like development on the gums), extreme temperature sensitivity, toothache, or there may be no symptoms at all. Sometimes, deterioration of the nerve happens so slowly that little or no pain is felt.
What happens during a root canal procedure?
Root canal treatments require one of more appointments performed by a dentist and/or endodontist (root canal specialist).
First, the goal is to relieve any pain or discomfort you might be experiencing. When the tooth and surrounding tissues are numb, the tooth will be isolated to keep the tooth dry and free of saliva, and also to protect the mouth from bacteria and other chemical agents.
An access opening is made through the tooth, and the diseased pulp is carefully removed using a series of root canal files. If the root canal cannot be completed on that day, a temporary filling is placed in the opening until your next visit. At the next appointment the root canal and pulp chamber are filled and sealed. A filling will be placed to cover the opening of the tooth. Throughout the procedure, x-rays are taken periodically to ensure that the affected pulp is removed.
After a root canal procedure:
After treatment, it is normal to experience some sensitivity and soreness, but this will subside as your tooth heals.
A root canal treated tooth is more brittle than one which has a vital pulp, therefore it is more susceptible to fracture. A root canal treated tooth may also discolor. Although this is no medical concern, it can be an esthetic problem. A crown can help to disguise the discoloration. In most cases, a crown is recommended to protect the tooth and prevent it from breaking, thereby restoring it to chewing function.