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Root Canals - The Whole Truth

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Updated April 29, 2012

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Root Canals - The Whole Truth

An x-ray of a molar with a root canal treatment

Lora Dodge

Just hearing the term “root canal” can bring up images of horror and terror, but is it really as bad as most people think? What is involved in performing a root canal on a tooth and why is the treatment necessary? Treatment, in fact, is the most comfortable option because an infected tooth will never heal on its own. The unpleasant consequences of an infection in a tooth’s pulp will only get worse and more painful with time.


The Reason

When your dentist informs you that your tooth will need a root canal treatment, there could be a number of reasons why.

  • Your tooth has become infected and was diagnosed either from an x-ray or from your symptoms as having irreversible pulpitis. In simple terms, your tooth’s nerve (pulp) has become infected or inflamed and is damaged beyond repair. In order to salvage the tooth, your dentist will need to remove the infected pulp.

  • If you have broken your tooth or your tooth has cracked, and the crack has reached and exposed the nerve of your tooth, you would need a root canal.

  • Trauma or injury to a tooth that causes it to die will require a root canal treatment to remove the dead tissue (pulp) that remains.

The Procedure

  1. Before beginning any root canal treatment, your dentist will make sure your mouth is thoroughly numb using local anesthesia.

  2. Next, a rubber dam is placed around the infected tooth to isolate it from the rest of your mouth. The rubber dam keeps your tooth dry and accessible, and it prevents anything from falling to the back of your throat.

  3. To get to the infected tooth pulp, an opening is made through the top of the tooth down into the pulp chamber. A tiny instrument called a dental file is used to carefully remove the infected tissue and shape the root canals to receive a filling material.

  4. After the canals are filled, an x-ray is taken to be sure that all of the infected pulp is removed.

  5. Sometimes, it’s necessary for the dentist to build up the tooth with a post and core. The post adds much-needed retention for the core material. Once your tooth has had a root canal treatment, it is very fragile (like an empty egg shell) and needs added strength.

The Follow-up

After the procedure is complete (usually in one or two visits), your tooth will need to be restored. Depending on your unique situation, your dentist may recommend any number of techniques to restore your tooth, the most common of which involves placing a crown. When that time comes, you and your dentist will decide which restorative procedure best suits your needs.

Sources:

The American Association of Endodontists. "What is Endodontic Treatment?"

The American Dental Association. "Root Canal (Endodontic) Treatment.

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