The Root Canal Explained

Endodontic treatments involve the treatment of the interior of the teeth and one of the most popular types of endodontic treatment is a root canal.

To understand the root canal procedure, it helps to know something about the anatomy of the tooth. Inside the tooth, under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin, is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the crown (or top of the tooth) to the tip of the roots. The pulp is particularly important during a tooth’s growth and development, but once a tooth is fully mature it can survive without the pulp. The continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it, so the pulp is unnecessary.

Root canals are required when the pulp becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, an injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess. Some indications that a root canal procedure may be indicated are pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tenderness to touch and chewing, discoloration of the tooth, swelling, drainage and tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gum tissues. There are cases where there are no symptoms, however.

The root canal procedure itself involves the removal of the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleaning and shaping the inside of the root chambers, then filling and sealing the space. Many root canal procedures are performed to relieve the pain of toothaches caused by pulp inflammation or infection. With modern techniques most patients are comfortable during the procedure. For the first few days following treatment, the tooth may feel sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications.

Following the root canal procedure a crown is generally indicated to protect and restore the tooth to full functionality.

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