Root Canal Therapy
Root canal therapy is a treatment to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The term "root canal" comes from cleaning of the canals inside a tooth's root. Decades ago, root canal treatments often were painful. With dental advances and local anesthetics, most people have little if any pain with a root canal. In fact, it's probably more painful living with a decayed tooth. Root canal alternatives include extracting the damaged tooth and replacing it with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture.
What are the signs that a root canal is needed?
- Severe tooth pain while chewing
- Your tooth pain wakes you up at night
- Teeth that are highly sensitive to hot or cold, with the sensitivity lingering for some time.
- Discoloration or darkening of the tooth
- Swollen gums in the area of the infected tooth
What does the treatment involve?
The root canal usually takes one to three visits. First, you have dental X-rays to check the extent of damage. You also receive a local anesthetic to control pain, which may be more severe if the tooth is abscessed. Decay is removed, and an opening is made through the crown of the tooth to gain access to the pulp chamber. Using small dental instruments, the infected or diseased pulp is removed.
After the diseased pulp is removed, the pulp chamber and root canals are flushed and cleaned. After cleaning and drying, it's time to fill the interior of the tooth — the empty pulp chamber and root canals. A sealer paste and rubber compound is used to fill the tooth, followed by a dental filling to make sure the root canals are protected from saliva.
The final stage of the root canal is restoring your tooth. Because the tooth typically has a large filling or is weakened from extensive decay, it needs to be protected from future damage and returned to normal function. This is usually done by placing a crown — a realistic-looking artificial tooth. A crown is made of gold, porcelain or porcelain fused to metal.
After your root canal, your restored tooth with the new crown should work normally and look cosmetically pleasing. If you follow good dental and oral hygiene, your restored tooth could last a lifetime. The first few days after your root canal, the tooth may be sensitive. Over-the-counter pain medications can help. If pain or pressure lasts more than a few days, be sure to talk to your dentist.