What is a Root Canal?

Everything You Need to Know

What is a Root Canal?
What is a Root Canal?

You must have heard dentists mention root canal treatments in passing. Root canal treatments are done to fix and salvage teeth that are severely decayed or have become infected. When this procedure is done, the nerve is extracted along with the pulp from the tooth’s interior. Cleaning and sealing of the tooth will then be done post-extraction. This is a necessary treatment because if it is not done, the infection could spread to the tissues around the tooth and there will be abscesses formation.

The term root canal is the cavity that is naturally found in the center of a tooth. The pulp is a soft chamber found within this cavity. This is where the nerves of the tooth can also be found.

Is removing the pulp and nerve from a tooth safe?

After a tooth has come out of the gums, its nerve is no longer vital for that tooth’s health or functioning. The only purpose it serves is as a sensory function, the sensation we feel when we consume something too hot or too cold is due to the presence of this nerve. But, for a root canal treatment to be done, it needs to be removed. Rest assured, the removal of the nerve has no impact on the tooth’s function.

Reasons for removing the pulp

This treatment is done only when the damage or decay is severe. The damaged pulp of a tooth disintegrates and the bacteria start spreading within the chamber of this pulp. The decayed debris and bacteria can cause infection and pus could form at the root ends of the tooth and this pocket full of pus is called an abscess. This happens if the infection will spread to the roots of the tooth. Apart from this, an infection like this can also cause:

  • Swelling of face, head, and neck
  • Bone-loss could occur at a tooth’s root tip
  • Drainage issues could begin from the root due to the formation of a hole on the affected tooth. The drainage will seep into the gums.

How do a tooth’s pulp and nerve get damaged?

Decay, dental work on a single tooth, large fillings, cracked or chipped tooth and facial trauma are some ways in which a tooth’s pulp and nerve become inflamed, irritated and infected.

How to go about a root canal treatment? 

  • This will require more than one dental office visits.
  • A root canal is done by an endodontist or a dentist.
  • Whether you choose a dentist or an endodontist depends on the severity of the damage and the difficulty.
  • The dentist will be able to guide your decision on what is the best action to take.

The procedure itself

  • Step one is to take an x-ray of the root canal to see the extent of the damage. This is to determine if the surrounding bone has been infected or not.
  • Local anesthesia will be used by your dentist to numb the area adjoining the affected tooth.
  • The dentist might deem anesthesia unnecessary as the nerves are already dead, but he may choose to use it to make this a more relaxed experience for otherwise anxious patients.
  • The dentist will place a sheet of rubber also called a rubber dam on the tooth to ensure that the area is free from saliva during the treatment.
  • A hole is made in the tooth by a drill to get access.
  • The pulp infected with the bacteria and the decayed nerve tissue is removed.
  • Root canal files are used to clean out all of this.
  • Many files will be placed into the access hole, their diameter increasing subsequently and it will be worked down along the tooth to scrub and scrape the sides of the canal.
  • Sodium hypochlorite or water will be used periodically to remove any debris.
  • The tooth is sealed after cleaning it thoroughly.
  • A few dentists might wait for a few days before sealing because they will want to treat any existing infection by putting some medicine inside the tooth for clearing it up.
  • If the procedure is time-consuming and cannot be completed in a day, a filling is put to keep out any contaminants that could enter via food and saliva.

How painful will this procedure be?

A root canal treatment is known to be painful. But it can be compared to having a filling done, the amount of pain would more or less be the same.

What to expect after a root canal?

  • Tooth sensitivity due to inflammation for the initial few days after the root canal procedure.
  • Administration of medication for pain.
  • Maintaining oral hygiene by brushing, flossing and using antiseptic mouthwash regularly.

What is the success rate of this procedure?

This is a highly successful dental procedure with about a 95 percent success rate. A tooth that goes through a root canal usually lasts a while. The procedure and its outcomes are not obvious to onlookers because, towards the final steps, a filling or a crown is placed on the tooth that has received treatment, giving the tooth a natural look.

Some complications to be aware of

  • Despite all the efforts of the procedure, infections could emerge again after a root canal.
  • If a tooth has more than one root canals and if that remained uncleaned, the infection could make its way back.
  • If the root has an undetected crack, that could bring more infection.
  • If the dental restoration was not done well and it has led to bacteria bypassing the restoration and into the inner parts of the tooth, thus, re-contaminating the area.
  • The sealing material used inside could break down over time and bacteria re-enter.

Nevertheless, a root canal is an inevitable and necessary treatment that has to be done should the need arise. Any dentist should be able to perform it for you. Put a quick search on the internet to get it done near you.







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