What is a root canal?
Probably the least understood dental procedure (and surely surrounded by the most misconceptions), root canals are the only way to save an infected tooth. Once decay and infection penetrate the tooth’s outer enamel layer and the hard dentin layer beneath, it has entered the pulp of the tooth. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots. Where these roots run are called the root canals.
When infection enters the pulp, the infected tissues must be removed and the tooth thoroughly cleaned and then filled. This is a root canal. Since permanent teeth no longer need the nourishment provided by the connective tissues and blood vessels in the tooth root (they are only necessary when the tooth is developing), removing these soft tissues doesn’t endanger the health of the tooth. By halting the spread of the infection, a root canal can allow the patient to keep the tooth, potentially for the remainder of his or her life.
Why do I need a root canal?
When infection penetrates the enamel and the dentin, the soft tissues of the pulp are defenseless. The infection will spread throughout the tooth and can eventually lead to abscesses and possible spreading of infection to other parts of the body. When the pulp, where the tooth nerves are found, becomes infected the tooth may become very sensitive. The patient will have pain, prolonged sensitivity to hot or cold, tenderness to the touch and when chewing, discoloration of the tooth, swelling and tenderness of the surrounding gum tissue, and persistent pimples on the gums. The only way to address the infection and pain is to either extract the tooth or to perform a root canal.
ROOT CANAL TREATMENT
Some root canals can be done in one visit, however, in some cases, a root canal requires two appointments with the Broadway Family Dentistry team in Minot, ND.
- During the first appointment, we first numb the tooth and the surrounding area.
- We drill a small hole in the crown of the tooth to gain access to the interior.
- Working through the hole, we use small files to remove all of the infected nerves, blood vessels, and other debris in the pulp cavity and down into the root canals.
- The now-empty tooth cavity is then flushed with water and sodium hypochlorite to remove any remaining debris and to thoroughly disinfect the interior of the tooth.
- Next, we seal the empty tooth with biocompatible sealer and a rubber based material. We then seal the tooth with adhesive cement, and we close the hole with a traditional dental composite filling. In some teeth, this is sufficient and the procedure is finished.
- When your crown is finished, you return and we place it with a hard set resin cement. Your tooth is good to go to keep you chewing.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Root canal procedures are surrounded by undeserved fear. People think the procedure is painful but often it doesn’t involve any more discomfort than a typical filling. People tie the pain of their infected tooth to the root canal procedure, but the root canal is the solution to remove the pain. You need to remember that a root canal removes all of the nerves from the infected tooth, so it no longer has any sensation. Afterward, there will be some residual soreness as the surrounding tissues calm down from their former infected state, but this lasts only a day or two and is easily managed with over-the-counter pain medication.
There isn’t really any recovery necessary. As mentioned, the tooth no longer has any nerve feelings in it. You can bite and chew with the tooth immediately with confidence. There may be some soreness for a day or so, but that’s about it.
As mentioned above, a tooth only needs the blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues when it is growing. Adult teeth maintain their health from a process known as mineralization, not from the interior of the tooth. So, once the infected interior of the tooth is cleaned out and filled, the tooth can remain in place for decades.
Even after protecting the tooth with a crown, root canal teeth can also get cavities on them. It is important to keep the area around and between these teeth clean to prevent premature loss of these teeth.