What is Endodontic Therapy?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Dental x-rays are useful in determining the extent of infection.
Dental x-rays are useful in determining the extent of infection.

Endodontic therapy is another name for a root canal. This is a dental procedure that is used to treat an infected or decayed tooth. Without endodontic therapy, an infected tooth may become so badly damaged that it is beyond saving and will need to be removed, or extracted.

Signs of a possible infected tooth can include tenderness and swelling of the gums. The patient may notice the tooth is darker or discolored. Patients may also experience sensitivity in the area.

Teeth are protected by layers. A hard layer of enamel covers the top and sides of the teeth above the gums. Underneath the enamel, a layer of dentin protects the innards of the tooth, called the pulp.

Tooth and gum sensitivity may be a sign of an infected tooth.
Tooth and gum sensitivity may be a sign of an infected tooth.

If the tooth is damaged by trauma, a crack, or a deep cavity, the pulp may become exposed. Then, the bacteria in the patient's mouth may reach the pulp and infect it. During endodontic therapy, the dentist removes the infected pulp and re-seals the tooth to prevent further damage.

Before performing the procedure, the dentist usually takes x-rays to determine the extent of the infection. He may also apply a local anesthetic to numb the area, and ensure the comfort of the patient. A sheet of latex is then typically secured around the tooth to keep it dry.

The next step in endodontic therapy is having a hole drilled in the tooth to allow the dentist access to the pulp. Instruments called root canal files are used to remove the diseased pulp from the tooth. Water is also usually used to flush the area.

Typically, the dentist will then place a temporary seal on the tooth. Sometimes, however, a dentist may wait for about a week to ensure that the infection is completely gone, in which case the tooth will be filled with a medication. After the dentist is satisfied that the tooth is infection-free, a crown is placed on the tooth to protect it from future damage.

Patients should consult with their dentists on chewing and biting before a crown is placed. During this time, the tooth is more vulnerable to chipping and cracks. Patients should not experience a great deal of pain, because the nerve in the tooth is dead. They may experience some discomfort and sensitivity, which can be alleviated with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers.

Following stringent oral hygiene guidelines can help ensure that the patient does not have to undergo future endodontic therapy treatments. Patients should be careful to brush and floss their teeth after each meal. Regular dental check-ups can also help prevent dental problems.

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    • Dental x-rays are useful in determining the extent of infection.
      Dental x-rays are useful in determining the extent of infection.
    • Tooth and gum sensitivity may be a sign of an infected tooth.
      Tooth and gum sensitivity may be a sign of an infected tooth.