What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a dental treatment used for the purpose of repairing or saving a tooth that is badly decayed or aching and possibly showing signs of being infected or abscessed. During this procedure, the nerve and pulp of the tooth is removed, then the inside of the tooth is cleaned and filled with a special material designed to aid in healing and prevent further infection from occurring. Without this treatment, the bone supporting the tooth will become further infected and need to be removed.
The term “root canal” is also used to describe the natural cavity in the centre of all teeth. It contains the pulp of a tooth, which is mainly blood supply and nerves. The main function of the nerves is to react to pressure as well as hot and cold. Tooth nerve pain can also be a signal that a cavity is forming even though one may not be visible.
When the pulp of a tooth is damaged it becomes succeptible to invasion from harmful bacteria. If left untreated, this can lead to a dental abscess which is usually accompanied by severe pain and swelling. A dental abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms in the bone along side a tooth or in the bone at the end of the tooth root. This condition can result in the spread of infection to other areas of the head and neck as well as significant bone loss in the infected area. It is often accompanied by a blister or gum boil adjacent to the infected tooth in which a hole may form to allow pus drainage into the mouth.
The pulp of a tooth can become irritated, inflamed or infected due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures such as fillings, cracks or fractures in the tooth or trauma to the face. A root canal procedure usually requires one extended visit and can be performed by a general dentist or a root canal specialist, called an endodontist. The choice of which type of provider to use often depends on the degree of difficulty of the particular procedure and the general dentist’s comfort level in working on the tooth in question.
Root Canal Treatment
The procedure begins with an xray or 3d scan of the tooth to see the shape of the roots and determine if infection has spread to the surrounding bone. Freezing is used to numb the area around the tooth and insure you are feeling nothing. The infected nerve area is then accessed by making a small opening into the biting surface of the tooth. Any remaining nerve or pulp debris is then removed using a series of very fine guage files shaped like needles. These are worked down the full length of the tooth to scrape, scrub and clean the sides of the nerve canal. Water, dental freezing or calcium hydroxide is used during the procedure to periodically flush debris.
Following this preparation, the cleaned canal is filled with a sealing paste and a rubbery compound called gutta percha. A filling is then placed to close the access opening. A tooth with no nerve has a tendency to become brittle and prone to fracture. Thus, it is usually recommended that a root canal tooth have a permanent crown made as a precautionary measure to restore the tooth and prevent fracture.