Having a root canal done on a tooth means that the soft innermost core of the tooth, the pulp, is removed while the rest of the tooth stays intact. When a tooth needs a root canal, the nerve (pulp) has been damaged either by decay or by trauma and that nerve must be removed. There are only two ways to remove a tooth nerve……a root canal which removes just the nerve of the tooth or an extraction which removes the entire tooth. So, having a root canal means that you get to keep your natural tooth. After having a root canal, the top of the tooth will then need to be covered and protected by a crown.
Signs and Symptoms for Possible Root Canal Therapy:
- An abscess (or pimple) on the gums
- Sensitivity to hot and cold and pressure
- Swelling or tenderness
- Sometimes no symptoms are present. The dentist diagnoses the problem during routine x-ray examination.
Reasons for Root Canal Therapy:
- Decay has reached the nerve of the tooth
- Injury or trauma to the tooth (often times during sports)
- Grinding or clenching
What Does Root Canal Therapy Involve?
Root canal treatment usually involves 1-3 appointments depending upon the amount of infection present, the difficulty of access and the size and number of canals. The root canal can be performed by either a general dentist or a root canal specialist called an endodontist.
The tooth is numbed and then a rubber sheet (called a rubber dam) is placed over the tooth to isolate that tooth from contamination of saliva. An opening is made into the inner core of the tooth and the pulp (nerve and blood supply to the tooth) is completely removed. If there is a lot of infection and the root canal system cannot be dried due to seepage, then the tooth is temporized and the root canal must be continued 1-2 weeks later when the infection has had time to heal. When the root canal system of the tooth can be completely dried, the procedure is finished by filling those canals with an inert, biocompatible substance (usually gutta percha) to seal the tips of the roots from further infection.
Root canal therapy is highly successful and usually lasts a lifetime, although on occasion, a tooth may have to be retreated due to a new infection.
Once the root canal treatment is complete, the tooth must then be covered and protected with a full coverage crown. If the root canal treated tooth is not covered by a crown, the patient runs a huge risk of fracturing the tooth beyond repair. What a shame it would be to have a root canal done to save a tooth and then end up losing it because the tooth was never covered with a crown!