A root canal is a treatment that can be performed at your local dentist office to repair and save an infected or badly damaged tooth. During this procedure, the pulp and nerve are removed and the inside of your tooth is cleansed and sealed. If treatment is not sought, the infection can spread to surrounding tissues causing an abscess to form.

The term “root canal” is used to describe the natural cavity within the center of your tooth. The soft area within the root canal is the pulp and the nerve lies within the root canal. The only function of the nerve is to provide you with the sensation of hot or cold. After a tooth emerges through the gums, the nerve is not vital to the health and function of your tooth.

When Is a Root Canal Necessary?

The nerve and pulp of your tooth can become swollen, irritated and infected from undergoing multiple dental procedures or large fillings, trauma to your face, a chip or crack in your tooth, or from deep tooth decay.

When any of these occurrences damage the nerve or pulp of your tooth, it causes them to break down and bacteria begin to multiply within those areas. These bacteria, along with debris from decay can cause a tooth to become abscessed, leaving a pus-filled pocket to form at the end of the roots of the affected tooth.

A root canal is necessary because in addition to an abscess forming, an infection in the root canal can develop. This may cause:

  • Bone loss around the tip of the root
  • Swelling that can spread to your face, neck, or head
  • Drainage problems that extend outward from the root into your gums or through your cheek into your skin.

Signs that you need a root canal aren’t always present. However, if you notice any of the following signs, it may be an indication you need to visit your dentist for possible root canal treatment:

  • Prolonged sensitivity or pain when exposed to heat or cold, even after heat or cold are removed
  • Discoloration, or darkening of a tooth
  • Severe tooth pain upon application of pressure or chewing
  • Tenderness and swelling of the nearby gums
  • A recurring or persistent pimple on your gums

What Happens During the Procedure?

There are a number of steps that occur over a few visits to your local dentist office. First, an x-ray is taken to determine the location of the decay. Prior to the procedure, local anesthesia is injected to the area surrounding the affected tooth. Only local anesthesia is needed as this procedure is typically no more painful than a tooth filling. Your dentist will then make an opening so he/she can remove the diseased tooth pulp. To complete the procedure, any roots that have been opened are then filled with appropriate material and sealed off with cement. You will return at a later visit to have the permanent filling or crown placed over the affected tooth.

What to Expect After a Root Canal

Following a root canal, your tooth may feel tender or sensitive due to the body’s response to the procedure, which causes tissue inflammation. This is especially true if you had pain or an infection prior to the procedure. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen are typically effective in relieving this discomfort. It is likely you will be able to return to your normal activities the following day.

To completely finish a root canal treatment, you will need to return for a permanent filling or crown. It is advisable to minimize chewing on the repaired tooth until the process is completed. In terms of oral care, you can brush and floss as normal.

Whether you are concerned about your oral health in general, or have signs that indicate a root canal may be necessary, it is advisable to seek treatment as soon as possible. Call our dental office to schedule a visit today.