Root canal therapy, also referred to as endodontic treatment, is a common dental procedure performed to repair and restore damaged tissue surrounding the root of a tooth. The procedure is performed annually by dentists or specialists known as endodontists on more than 20 million patients. Root canal therapy involves removing bacteria, nerve tissue, and organic debris that are infecting the tooth and causing inflammation and pain. If root canal therapy is not performed, the infection may spread, resulting in the tooth having to be extracted.
The procedure requires accessing the pulp in the tooth. Pulp is soft tissue made up of blood vessels and nerves found in a canal that stretches from the crown of the tooth to the jawbone. During root canal therapy, a patient is given a local anesthetic to help with the pain. The unhealthy tooth is secluded from saliva and an incision is made at the top of the tooth.
The contaminated area is then cleaned out thoroughly and a permanent filler is used to prevent future infection and pain. Medication may be given to destroy any bacteria found in the affected area. Then, a temporary filling is put in the opening to prevent saliva. If a serious infection is uncovered and if it has spread past the root of the tooth, antibiotics made be prescribed.
If uncomplicated, root canal therapy may be performed during a single visit. Generally, though, more than one treatment is needed to save the tooth. Usually, during a second visit to a dentist or endodontist, the temporary filling is taken out. The canal of the root is filled and sealed to prevent future infection and pain. A person will then need to have a fabricated crown, usually which matches the color of the tooth, placed over where the incision was made.
Symptoms that nerve damage has occurred and that a root canal may vary from person to person. In most cases, a person in need of treatment will experience discomfort when biting down or eating. Other symptoms include swelling of the face and sensitivity to hot or cold beverages.
After undergoing root canal therapy, a patient will need to watch the tooth carefully. After the procedure, the treated tooth will be more brittle than other teeth, so a person will need to take caution to avoid fracturing or chipping the treated tooth. Over time, the treated tooth may become discolored, but this poses no health threat.