What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a type of dental treatment used to eliminate bacteria from an infected root of a tooth.
The top layers of the tooth are the enamel and dentin. Within those hard layers is a soft tissue called pulp that contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp functions to help grow the root of a tooth during its development, but a fully developed tooth can survive without the pulp because surrounding tissues provide the tooth the nourishment it needs.
In a root canal, inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed.
What Is a Root Canal Used For?
Root canals are used to save a tooth that is infected or decayed due to:
- Cracked teeth that result from injury or genetics
- Deep cavities
- Issues from previous fillings
Symptoms that may indicate the need for a root canal include:
How Do Doctors Perform a Root Canal?
A root canal treatment is usually completed in one or two appointments, depending on the condition of the patient’s tooth.
The procedure involves the following steps:
- X-rays are taken of the tooth
- Local anesthetic is administered to numb the area
- A “dental dam” is placed over the area to isolate the tooth and keep it clean and free of saliva during the procedure
- An opening is made in the crown of the tooth and tiny instruments clean the pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals and to shape the space for filling
- Once the space is cleaned and shaped, the root canal is filled with a biocompatible material (usually a rubber-like material called gutta-percha) that is placed with an adhesive cement to ensure complete sealing of the root canals
- A temporary filling is usually placed to close the opening, which will be removed before the tooth is restored
- After the final appointment, the dentist will place a crown or other restoration on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function
The first appointment is the procedure in which the infected pulp is removed, and the second (and sometimes third) appointment is when the root canal is cleaned and filled. Appointments last about 90 minutes each.
Is Root Canal Painful?
A root canal is performed with local anesthesia and the area is numbed, so patients will not experience pain during the procedure. Most people are comfortable during a root canal, which is generally no more painful than having a cavity filled.
Following a root canal, patients generally experience some soreness, discomfort, tooth sensitivity, or swelling for up to a few days. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are usually sufficient to ease any discomfort.
What Are Risks and Complications of a Root Canal?
Root canals have a greater than 95% success rate, so complications are rare.
Complications of a root canal may include:
- A procedure that didn’t properly clean the canals to begin with
- A breakdown of the crown or the inner sealant
- Anything that allows a tooth that previously had a root canal to become infected at the root and affect other teeth
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