If you have a severely damaged, decaying tooth or a serious tooth infection (abscess), your dentist may recommend a root canal treatment. Root canals are used to repair and save your tooth instead of removing it.
Root canal treatment is designed to eliminate bacteria from the infected root canal, prevent reinfection of the tooth and save the natural tooth. When you undergo a root canal, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed.
Inside your tooth, beneath the white enamel and a hard layer called dentin, is a soft tissue called pulp. This tissue contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, which help grow the root of your tooth during its development. A fully developed tooth can survive without the pulp because the tooth continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it.
The pulp can become infected if you have:
A deep cavity
Repeated dental procedures that disturb this tissue
A cracked or fractured tooth
Injury to the tooth (even if there’s not a visible crack or chip)
An infection can put you at risk of losing your tooth completely because bacteria can damage the bone that keeps your tooth connected to your jaw.
There are a few symptoms that mean you might need a root canal:
Severe pain while chewing or biting
Pimples on the gums
A chipped or cracked tooth
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold, even after the sensation has been removed
Swollen or tender gums
Deep decay or darkening of the gums
A root canal treatment is similar to a routine filling. It can usually be completed in one or two appointments, depending on the condition of your tooth and your personal circumstances.
During treatment, your dentist will:
Create an opening in the top of your tooth.
Remove the tooth’s nerve from inside the tooth and in the areas in the root, known the root canal.
Clean inside the tooth and each root canal. Your dentist may treat the tooth with germ-killing medicine.
Fill the root canals with a rubber-like material to seal them against future infection.
Place a temporary filling on the tooth to protect it until a definitive restoration like a permanent filling or crown can be placed at the earliest opportunity.
After root canal treatment:
Your tooth and the area around it may feel sensitive for a few days. You can talk with your dentist about how to relieve any discomfort you may have.
Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics if the infection spread. Use as directed, and follow up with your dentist if you have any problems taking it.
You will need a follow-up visit after the root canal treatment. At this visit, your dentist will remove the temporary filling on the tooth and replace it with a regular filling or a crown to protect your tooth from further damage.
Getting a root canal is extremely effective. You’ll be back to smiling, biting and chewing with ease in no time.