What is a Root Canal?

Root canal therapy is used to repair and save a tooth that has been damaged either from an injury or from decay.  If a cavity has spread to the tooth's nerve tissue within the pulp chamber, then the bacteriacan cause a painful infection or an abscessed tooth.  An abscess occurs when the infection spreads past the roots of the tooth and creates a pus-filled pocket of bacteria beneath the tooth root.

If the infected tooth isn't treated, you could have:

  • Swelling
  • Bone loss around the tip of the root
  • Severe tooth pain
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperature
  • The infection drain into the gums or into the cheek

What Happens During a Root Canal?

Root canal therapy is usually a two-step process.  On the first visit, either your dentist or an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in the dental pulp of the tooth, will take an x-ray to see the shape of the root canals and if there is any infection in the jaw bone.   Next, the dentist typically administers a local anesthesia to the area. The dentist will drill a hole into the tooth and then clean out the damaged nerve tissue using a series of root canal files of varying sizes.  Once the tooth is cleaned, the dentist may place some medication inside the tooth to clear up any infection, then the tooth is sealed with a temporary filling to keep food and other contaminants out of the tooth until the next appointment.

At the second appointment, the dentist will fill the interior of the tooth with a sealer paste and a rubber compound called gutta percha.Then a filling is placed in the hole in the enamel.After a root canal, the tooth is weaker.  To keep it from breaking, the dentist will place a crown, a crown and post, or another restoration on the tooth.

While it’s never fun to have a root canal, modern technology means it's not the painful process it once was. Typically, the procedure is about as comfortable as having a filling placed.  Best of all, root canal therapy is highly successful.  Many teeth fixed with a root canal can last a lifetime. 

What is a root canal

Written by: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD

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