Root Canal Therapy

When the inner nerve of a tooth becomes affected by decay or infection, root canal therapy may be required to restore the tooth. The tooth may become extremely sensitive to both pressure and temperature, and intense pain can be expected. In the initial stages of decay and infection, symptoms may not be present. However, in the advanced stages of decay and infection, an abscess (pimple-like inflammation on the gums) will form.

When confronting this type of decay or infection, the patient has two options: pull the affected tooth or save the tooth through root canal therapy. In order to save the tooth, the pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth), nerves, bacteria, and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled with special, medicated dental materials which restore the tooth to its full function.

When extracting a decayed or infected tooth, significant and costly dental problems can arise for adjacent teeth. In the end, tooth extraction may cause more problems than it will solve. Root canal therapy is a much more desirable alternative, as it will provide full functionality to the tooth and mouth, and will not cause any future problems with adjacent teeth.

The reasons a dentist will recommend root canal therapy include the following:

  • Decay has reached the tooth pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth)
  • Infections or abscesses have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip
  • Trauma or injury to the tooth

Signs and symptoms indicating a need for root canal therapy include:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Severe toothache pain
  • Swelling or tenderness

The restoration the root canal therapy provides will usually last a lifetime. It will provide full functionality back to the tooth and mouth. There may be a need in the future to re-treat the tooth, but this would only be necessary if a new, separate infection arose.

Root canal procedures usually require more than one visit to a dentist or an endodontist (root canal specialist). In the procedure, the tooth is numbed and a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) is placed around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva. An access opening is made on top of the tooth and a series of root canal files are placed into the opening, one at a time, removing the pulp, nerve tissue, and bacteria. If tooth decay is present, it will also be removed with special dental instruments.

Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it is sealed by either a permanent filling or a temporary filling, depending on the need of additional appointments.

At the next appointment (usually a week later), the roots and the inner cavity of the tooth are filled and sealed with medicated dental materials. The tooth is then sealed with a filling, and then a crown (cap). This protects the tooth, prevents further breakage, and restores full functionality.

It is considered normal to experience some pain and discomfort for a short time after the treatment. All pain will subside as the tooth and gums heal. We will give you care and instructions regarding how you can maintain health and functionality to your tooth, as well as recommendations on how to care for your tooth during the healing process.