What is a Root Canal Filling?

Marisa O'Connor

A root canal filling is a dental procedure that is performed in order to save a tooth from dying and falling out of the mouth. It is required when the inside of the tooth becomes infected with bacteria. Root canals can take one to three appointments to complete, in which the tooth is drilled, cleaned, and capped with a crown. The treatment can take a few days to several weeks to heal completely.

Dentists use a root canal to remove the nerve and pulp of a tooth that has become diseased or infected.
Dentists use a root canal to remove the nerve and pulp of a tooth that has become diseased or infected.

A root canal filling is necessary when the root canals of a tooth become infected with bacteria. There is much more to a tooth than meets the eye. Under the hard enamel of a tooth is an area of soft tissue called pulp. The pulp holds the tooth's nerves, arteries, and lymph vessels. Root canals are small pathways that begin at the pulp chamber and end at the tip of the root.

A person getting a filling.
A person getting a filling.

A root canal filling is needed under two basic conditions: when a deep cavity infects the tooth pulp and if the tooth fractures, allowing bacteria to seep into the tooth, infecting the pulp. Infected pulp causes increase in blood flow and cellular activity, which builds pressure within the tooth. This can cause pain when chewing or when the tooth comes in contact with hot or cold substances. If infected pulp is not cleaned out, it will kill the tooth, causing it to fall out.

Root canal therapy generally takes two to three appointments to complete. The first appointment is when most of the work will take place. A second appointment may be required to place a temporary crown. If the tooth is relatively clean and not too far gone, the temporary crown can be placed during the first appointment, but it may be left open if the dentist thinks it needs to drain. The permanent crown is seated at the final appointment, usually two weeks from the original appointment.

The dentist will likely begin root canal filling by applying local anesthesia to numb the area he or she will be working on. Once numb, the dentist will drill a gap from the crown of the tooth into the pulp. All infected pulp is removed and cleaned away, which requires a cleaning instrument to penetrate the root canals. Medication may be applied to the pulp to fight bacteria.

If the tooth doesn't need to drain, the dentist will fill the cleaned root canals and pulp chamber with rubber-like material. This seals the area to prevent recontamination. The dentist may insert a metal post into the tooth if it doesn't appear stable in order to reinforce the tooth. The remaining enamel of the tooth will be filed down and reshaped to make room for the crown. The final procedure to complete the root canal filling is placing and sealing the crown.

Root canal therapy has a 95-percent success rate. Most cases heal within a few days, but some can take several weeks to fully heal. The dentist may prescribe pain medication or antibiotics to help the healing process. If pain returns, this may indicate that the root canal failed, and a dentist should be consulted right away.

Root canals involve drilling, cleaning and capping a tooth when its roots area has become infected.
Root canals involve drilling, cleaning and capping a tooth when its roots area has become infected.

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