Root Canal Treatment
Root canal treatment, also known as endodontic treatment, is a dental procedure in which the diseased or damaged pulp (core) of a tooth is removed and the inside areas (the pulp chamber and root canals) are filled and sealed.
Inflamed or infected pulp (pulpitis) most often causes a toothache. To relieve the pain and prevent further complications, the tooth may be extracted (surgically removed) or saved by root canal treatment. Root canal treatment has become a common dental procedure; more than 14 million are performed every year, with a 95% success rate, according to the American Association of Endodontists.
Once root canal treatment is performed, the patient must have a crown placed over the tooth to protect it. The cost of the treatment and the crown may be expensive. However, replacing an extracted tooth with a fixed bridge, a removable partial denture, or an implant to maintain the space and restore the chewing function is typically even more expensive.
Root canal treatment may be performed by a general dentist or by an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in endodontic (literally "inside of the tooth") procedures. Inside the tooth, the pulp's soft tissue contains the blood supply, by which the tooth gets its nutrients, and the nerve, by which the tooth senses hot and cold. This tissue is vulnerable to damage from deep dental decay, accidental injury, tooth fracture, or trauma from repeated dental procedures (such as multiple fillings over time). If a tooth becomes diseased or injured, bacteria build up inside the pulp, spreading infection from the natural crown of the tooth to the root tips in the jawbone. Pus
accumulates at the ends of the roots, forming a painful abscess which can damage the bone supporting the teeth. Such an infection may produce pain that is severe, constant, or throbbing, as well as prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, swelling and tenderness in the surrounding gums, facial swelling, and discoloration of the tooth. However, in some cases, the pulp may die so gradually that there is little noticeable pain.
Root canal treatment is performed under local anesthesia. A thin sheet of rubber, called a rubber dam, is placed in the mouth to isolate the tooth. The dentist removes any tooth decay and makes an opening through the natural crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber. Creating this access also relieves the pressure inside the tooth and can dramatically ease pain.
The dentist determines the length of the root canals, usually with a series of x rays. Small wire-like files are then used to clean the entire canal space of diseased pulp tissue and bacteria. The debris is flushed out with large amounts of water (irrigation). The canals are also slightly enlarged and shaped to receive an inert (non-reactive) filling material called gutta percha. However, the tooth is not filled and permanently sealed until it is completely free of active infection. The dentist may place a temporary seal, or leave the tooth open to drain, and prescribe an antibiotic to counter any spread of infection from the tooth. This is why root canal treatment may require several visits to the dentist.
Once the canals are completely clean, they are filled with gutta percha and a sealer cement to prevent bacteria from entering the tooth in the future. A metal post may be placed in the pulp chamber for added structural support and better retention of the crown restoration. The tooth is protected by a temporary filling or crown until a permanent restoration may be made. This restoration is usually a gold or porcelain crown, although it may be a gold inlay, or an amalgam or composite filling (paste fillings that harden).
There is no typical preparation for root canal treatment. Once the tooth is opened to drain, the dentist may prescribe an antibiotic, then the patient should take the full prescribed course. With the infection under control, local anesthetic is more effective, so that the root canal procedure may be performed without discomfort.
The tooth may be sore for several days after filling. Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may be
There is a possibility that the root canal treatment will not be successful the first time. If infection and inflammation recur and an x ray indicates retreatment is feasible, the old filling material is removed and the canals are thoroughly cleaned out. The dentist will try to identify and correct problems with the first root canal treatment before filling and sealing the tooth a second time.
In cases where an x ray indicates that retreatment cannot correct the problem, endodontic surgery may be performed. In a procedure called an apicoectomy, or root resectioning, the root end of the tooth is accessed in the bone, and a small amount is shaved away. The area is cleaned of diseased tissue and a filling is placed to reseal the canal.
In some cases, despite root canal treatment and endodontic surgery, the tooth dies anyway and must be extracted.
With successful root canal treatment, the tooth will no longer cause pain. However, because it does not contain an internal nerve, it no longer has sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweets. These are signs of dental decay, so the patient must receive regular dental check-ups with periodic x rays to avoid further disease in the tooth. The restored tooth could last a lifetime; however, with routine wear, the filling or crown may eventually need to be replaced.
American Association of Endodontists. 211 East Chicago Ave., Ste. 1100, Chicago, IL 60611-2691. (800) 872-3636. <http://www.aae.org>.
American Dental Association. 211 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. (312) 440-2500. <http://www.ada.org>.
"Root Canal Treatment." Annapolis Endodontics. <http://users.erols.com/canals/index.html>.
"Root Canal Treatment." Value Added Benefits. <http://www.vab.com>.
" Endodontic (Root Canal) Therapy." Tooth Talk and Your Health with Dr. Frank Gober. <http://www.toothtalk.com>.
Thivierge, Bethany. "What is the Value (and Cost) of a Root Canal?" A Healthy Me Page. <http://www.ahealthyme.com/topic/rootcanal>.
Abscess—A hole in the tooth or gum tissue filled with pus as the result of infection. Its swelling exerts pressure on the surrounding tissues, causing pain.
Apicoectomy—Also called root resectioning. The root tip of a tooth is accessed in the bone and a small amount is shaved away. The diseased tissue is removed and a filling is placed to reseal the canal.
Crown—The natural crown of a tooth is that part of the tooth covered by enamel. Also, a restorative crown is a protective shell that fits over a tooth.
Endodontic—Pertaining to the inside structures of the tooth, including the dental pulp and tooth root, and the periapical tissue surrounding the root.
Endodontist—A dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders affecting the inside structures of the tooth.
Extraction—The surgical removal of a tooth from its socket in the bone.
Gutta percha—An inert latex-like substance used for filling root canals.
Pulp—The soft innermost layer of a tooth, containing blood vessels and nerves.
Pulp chamber—The area within the natural crown of the tooth occupied by dental pulp.
Pulpitis—Inflammation of the pulp of a tooth involving the blood vessels and nerves.
Root canal—The space within a tooth that runs from the pulp chamber to the tip of the root.
Root canal treatment—The process of removing diseased or damaged pulp from a tooth, then filling and sealing the pulp chamber and root canals.