Most likely, your initial answer may be that root canal therapy is something to be feared because it hurts! However, if you have needed root canal treatment in the past, you will know this isn’t true. In fact, root canal therapy isn’t that bad, and there is truly nothing to fear!
Why Is It Called Root Canal Treatment?
To understand why it’s called root canal treatment, it’s necessary to know a bit about the construction of a tooth. Your tooth consists of the crown which is the part visible in the mouth, and it has tooth roots extending into your jawbone. The exact number of tooth roots varies according to the location of the tooth. For example, a front tooth has just one tooth root whereas a large back tooth could have three roots.
The outer part of the crown is covered with enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. The inner part of the tooth consists of dentin which is just below the enamel, and this surrounds a chamber in the center of the tooth called the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber houses the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth and these extend into the root canals that are narrow and hollow channels extending into the tooth roots. Initially, when your tooth is growing and developing, these nerves and blood vessels ensure it is nourished and can grow properly. Once you are an adult, these tissues aren’t necessary for the tooth to survive, but they do mean that you can sense hot and cold substances in the mouth.
However, these tissues inside the pulp chamber and the root canals can become infected and inflamed by bacteria. This can happen if you have a small cavity, chip or a crack in a tooth that isn’t mended properly, enabling these bacteria to get inside the tooth, so the cavity becomes larger and eventually reaches the pulp chamber. Once the tissues inside the pulp chamber are inflamed and infected, they can become extremely painful. The purpose of having root canal therapy is to remove all the infected tissues, getting rid of the inflammation and the infection while saving the tooth.
What Happens to a Tooth without Root Canal Therapy?
Without root canal therapy you would lose the tooth because the infection cannot clear up on its own. It’s important to realize that you can have an infected tooth without pain, where the nerve inside the tooth has already died, but this doesn’t mean the infection will clear up. If you do develop toothache, it’s crucial to see a dentist as soon as you can. The sooner you can have professional dental treatment, the less likely you are to lose the tooth. If you fail to get treatment, the infection can worsen, extending beyond the tooth roots and by this stage, your dentist may need to remove the tooth. This could be essential to allow the infection to drain. There is another good reason for seeking early dental care as there is a risk of a severe tooth infection becoming life-threatening if the bacteria that are causing the infection reaches your brain.
Who Can Perform Root Canal Therapy?
It’s most likely that your general dentist can provide you with root canal therapy. However, if the infection is especially severe or where a previously root-treated tooth has become re-infected, they may choose to refer you to an endodontist. This is a dentist who specializes in performing root canal treatment. Receiving treatment from an endodontist can also be useful if a tooth has multiple roots that would be tricky to clean thoroughly.
What to Expect During Treatment?
During treatment, you shouldn’t feel a thing because your dentist can numb the tooth using a local anesthetic. The tooth is isolated with a dental dam which is a rubber sheet, and which helps to keep the tooth dry during treatment. Once your tooth is numb, a small hole is made in the crown or top of the tooth so the dentist can access the pulp chamber. When the chamber is visible, they will clean out all the infected tissues, getting rid of the nerves and blood vessels. Specially shaped files are used to clean and shape the root canals. Often a dentist will use a high-powered microscope to visualize the inside of the tooth more clearly, ensuring that all the diseased tissue is removed.
When your dentist is sure all the diseased tissue is removed, the pulp chamber and root canals are flushed with an antibacterial solution. The tooth is then sealed using gutta-percha, a rubberlike material that is highly biocompatible. Sometimes a dentist may place a temporary filling before permanently sealing the tooth later. This is just to make sure all the bacteria have been removed and could be necessary if the infection was especially severe.
What to Expect After Treatment?
Once your treatment is completed, your tooth might feel a little sensitive initially, until it settles down, but the severe pain caused by the infection should be gone, and you will feel much more comfortable. Often, there is no more discomfort than having an ordinary filling. Usually, a tooth that has received root canal therapy must be permanently restored with a dental crown that covers up the tooth entirely. This seals the tooth, preventing it from becoming re-infected and restoring it to full-strength.
Often, a tooth that has become infected will have lost quite a bit of its original structure, and after treatment, the tooth will frequently become more brittle because of the loss of blood vessels and nerves. A dental crown makes sure that you can bite and chew without the risk of fracturing the tooth. It is critical to make sure you attend all follow-up appointments to restore the tooth properly. Once your treatment is completed, your tooth should look and feel entirely comfortable and natural, and it will most likely last for many years or even for life.
Root canal therapy is a highly successful treatment that is tried and tested and used worldwide. It has saved many millions of teeth that would otherwise have been extracted. Also, treatment is a more cost-effective way of restoring a tooth, so it’s certainly nothing to be feared! Surely you would agree, it’s much better to have a root canal than to lose the tooth.