Root Canal: What you need to know

Suffering from intense pain when you chew or bite into food? Does one of your teeth feel particularly sensitive when it comes to contact with steaming hot or freezing cold foods? Does a chip or cracked tooth cause searing pain from time to time? The chances are that you need a root canal. A check-up with your endodontist or dentist will confirm one. Here are a few things you need to know about a root canal if you have one.

What is a Root Canal?

The word endodontic for root canal treatment comes from the Greek words “endo” meaning “inside” and “odont” meaning “tooth.” Basically, an endodontic treatment refers to treatment within the tooth. A root canal is just one type of endodontic treatment where the soft infected tissues inside the dentin (inside the enamel) that contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues get infected.

The soft tissues or pulp extends from the top of the tooth, called crown, to the tip of the roots, which connect to the tissues under the tooth. The pulp helps in the growth and development of the tooth, but once the tooth is fully mature, it can survive without the support of the pulp because the tissues connected around the tooth nourish it, too. But an endodontic treatment is required when the pulp is infected or inflamed from a variety of conditions:

  • Tooth injury or fracture
  • Deep decay from repeated dental procedures
  • If the pulp is infected or inflamed, causing an abscess
  • Infection from an ulcer in the inner gums

The endodontist cleans the decayed roots and infected pulp, removes it from inside the tooth, fills and seals the hollow space it leaves behind. The treatment in modern times has become far more comfortable than it used to be, thanks to the use of anesthetics. It saves the patient from the hassle of getting an implant, but sometimes, a crown may be needed to protect the fragile, hollow tooth that may become brittle with time.

Here is a step-by-step summary of the procedure:

  1. Drilling: Your infected tooth is assessed, then a hole is gently drilled to clean out the infected pulp, under local anesthesia.
  2. Pulp Removal: A series of files are used to remove the infected connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves that will prevent infections and discomfort in the future.
  3. Dental Cement Filling: The hollow space that the absence of the pulp leaves behind is filled to prevent the tooth from cracking or falling apart, using special dental cement.
  4. Crown Fixed: A crown or prosthetic tooth is fixed over the weakened tooth to make it strong and look visually appealing.

A root canal treatment is followed by soreness once the anesthesia wears off, but during the procedure, it remains pain-free with over-the-counter medications. Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed to prevent infection and inflammation, but the procedure is safe and time-tested. What is dangerous and leads to painful complications is leaving a root canal untreated.

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