Root Canal Therapy

What is root canal?

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 top pulp chamber down to the tip of the root.  A tooth has at least one but usually no more than four root canals.

Why do I feel pain?

When the pulp becomes infected due to a deep cavity or fracture that allows bacteria to seep in, or injured due to trauma, it can die.  Damaged or dead pulp causes increased blood flow and cellular activity. This pressure cannot be relieved from inside the tooth.  Pain in the tooth is commonly felt when biting down, chewing on it and applying hot or cold foods and drinks. 

Why do I need root canal therapy?

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 fall out.  Pain usually worsens until one is forced to seek emergency attention. The only alternative is usually extraction of the tooth, which can cause damage to the surrounding teeth.  Though an extraction is cheaper, the space left behind will require an implant or a bridge, which will be more expensive than root canal therapy.  It you have the choice, it is always best to keep your original teeth.

What is involved in root canal therapy?

The treatment usually involves one to three appointments.

First, you will probably be given a local anesthetic to numb the area. A rubber sheet is placed around the tooth to isolate it. Next a gap is prepared from the crown into the pulp chamber which, along with any infected root canal, is cleaned of all diseased pulp and reshaped. Medication may be inserted into the area to fight bacteria.  Depending on the condition of the tooth the crown may then be sealed temporarily to guard against re-contamination or the tooth may be left open to drain.  The dentist may go right ahead and fill the canals.

If you are given a temporary filling, usually on the next visit it is removed and the pulp chamber and canals are filled with a rubber like gutta percha or another material to prevent re-contamination.  The tooth will then need a post placed in the area to hold a filling or core in place.  Once filled, the area is permanently sealed. Finally, a gold or porcelain crown is normally placed over the tooth to strengthen its structure and improve appearance and function.

What are the risks and complications?

More than 95% of root canal treatments performed in North America are successful. However, sometimes a case needs to be redone due to diseased canal offshoots that were untreatable. This rarely occurs. Root canal therapy may fail altogether, which would mean the need for different treatment to save the tooth. 

What happens after treatment?

Natural tissue inflammation may cause discomfort for a few days, which can be controlled by an over the counter analgesic.  A follow-up exam can monitor tissue healing.  From this point on, brush and floss regularly and avoid chewing hard foods on the treated tooth. Maintain regular recare maintenance appointments and follow our specific instructions for sustaining complete oral health