What is a root canal?
Root canal treatment is the removal of the tooth’s pulp, which is a small thread-like tissue in the center of the tooth. Disease, infection or any kind of damage to this pulp can result in severe tooth pain. To alleviate the pain, the pulp must be removed. Once the damaged pulp is removed, the remaining space is cleaned, shaped and filled. This procedure seals off the root canal. Root canal treatment nowadays saves many teeth which, years ago, would simply have been pulled.
The most common causes of pulp damage are: 1) A cracked tooth, 2) A deep cavity, or 3) An injury to a tooth, caused, for example, by a blow to the jaw, either recently or in the past.
Once the pulp is infected or dead, if left untreated, pus can build up at the root tip in the jawbone, forming an abscess. An abscess can destroy the bone surrounding the tooth and cause severe pain.
How is a root canal done?
Root canal treatment consists of several steps, usually requiring either one or two office visits, depending on the situation. These steps are:
- First, an opening is made through the back of a front tooth, or the crown of a molar or pre-molar.
- After the damaged pulp is removed, the pulp chamber and root canals are cleaned, enlarged and shaped in preparation for being filled.
- If more than one office visit is needed, a temporary filling is placed in the crown opening to protect the tooth between office visits.
- On the next visit, the temporary filling is removed and a tapered, rubbery material, called “gutta-percha,” is inserted into each of the root canals and then sealed into place with cement. If necessary, a plastic or metal rod is sometimes inserted into the tooth for structural support. This procedure is called a “post and core.”
- Finally, a crown is usually placed over the tooth to restore it to its natural shape and appearance.
How long will a restored tooth last?
Your root canal treated and restored tooth can last a lifetime with proper dental care. Because decay can still occur in treated teeth, good oral hygiene and regular dental exams are necessary to ward off future problems.
After the pulp is removed, the tooth is essentially “dead,” and over time can become brittle and prone to fracture. Therefore, it is best to have a crown placed on the tooth after root canal treatment.