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Toothaches can be painful and distracting, and are most commonly a sign of decay or infection. Tooth infections are especially uncomfortable, but root canal therapy can relieve that pain in a single visit. With modern techniques, root canal therapy is a pain-free procedure that can help stop the spread of decay and restore the integrity of a damaged tooth.
Before you undergo any treatment, your dentist will examine your mouth and review any x-rays or other images to diagnose the cause of your toothache. If the cause turns out to be a tooth infection, your doctor will determine the extent of the damage and decide if root canal therapy can treat the problem.
Once the treatment area is sufficiently numb, your dentist will begin removing any decayed material beginning with the enamel. They will continue towards the center of the tooth, and clear any infected pulp from inside the tooth. Once the interior of the tooth’s canals have been thoroughly cleaned, the area is flushed with disinfectant to eliminate any remaining bacteria.
To fill the space left by the decayed material, the interior of the tooth will be filled with “gutta-percha,” an inert, rubber-like material that supports the inside of the tooth to maintain its structure.
Depending on how much enamel was removed during the procedure, the appearance and function of the tooth will be restored with either a filling or a dental crown.
Anterior root canals are performed on your anterior, or front, teeth. Because your front teeth are smaller, with less surface area, they are a more difficult and complex procedure than posterior (rear or molar) root canals.
During a posterior root canal, the large surface area of a molar or premolar’s crown allows doctors to create an opening at the top of the tooth. This is simply not possible with an anterior tooth, and the opening must be made on the lingual (the side that faces the tongue) surface of the tooth. The small surface of front teeth also makes it more difficult to restore with a crown or filling afterwards.
Posterior root canals are used to treat infected molars or premolars, teeth that reside in the back of the mouth. Due to their location and their pitted, grooved surfaces, posterior root canals are a more common treatment than their anterior counterparts.
In a posterior root canal, an opening is made in the crown, or top, of the infected tooth, which provides easy access to the interior pulp and root canals. Once the inside of the tooth has been cleared of bacteria and decay, the tooth will be restored with a filling or a dental crown.
Root canal therapy is one of the most successful dental treatments around, able to preserve an infected or damaged tooth’s natural structure with a success rate of about 95%. However, a variety of factors could cause a tooth that has received root canal therapy to heal improperly, or for the infection to return. Due to the complex structure of the canals within your tooth, it is possible for some bacteria to survive and multiply even after getting root canal therapy. Another way for bacteria to make their way back into the treated area is via an improperly fitted dental crown. No matter the cause, a failed root canal may require root canal retreatment to save the tooth and avoid extraction.
The retreatment process is similar to a regular root canal. Your dentist will remove the crown or filling to open up the treated tooth. They will then remove the existing “gutta-percha” filling and use special magnification, illumination, and imaging tools, to take a look at your tooth’s anatomy to identify any additional canals that may have been missing in the first procedure, or unique structures that may require cleansing. Once the canals have been cleaned and filled, a dental crown will be placed and fitted exactly, to ensure your tooth stays healthy.
Pulpotomies, often called “baby root canals,” are a treatment commonly used to restore infected baby teeth, although it may be used on adult teeth if necessary. The procedure itself is also similar to that of a normal root canal, with the difference lying in the amount of pulp removed from the tooth.
Your dentist will begin by cleaning and numbing the treatment area before removing any decayed enamel and creating an opening in the tooth. They will proceed to remove the top layers of the pulp, leaving nothing but the healthy pulp, instead of clearing out all of it like in a traditional root canal. Once the infection has been eliminated, the interior of the tooth will be flushed and sanitized.
A special healing dressing will then be applied to the remaining pulp to encourage it to heal and keep the tooth alive.
If you’re experiencing a tooth infection, chances are you will need root canal therapy. Tooth infections generally happen one of two ways:
1. Cavities can eat away at the outer layers of your enamel and into your dentin. The decay will eventually reach the interior of the tooth to expose the vulnerable pulp to infection-causing bacteria that causes the infection.
2. Dental trauma can create a chip or a crack in the enamel and dentin, creating an opening for bacteria to enter the nerve and blood vessel-filled pulp.
No matter how the infection occurs, it will cause the pulp to begin to decay and eventually die. When this happens, you’ll experience a toothache, gum inflammation near the tooth, and tooth sensitivity to temperature and pressure.
No. Root canal therapy has come a long way in recent years, and modern techniques make a root canal a pain-free procedure. In fact, the procedure is similar to getting a dental filling, and patients who receive root canal therapy can expect their tooth pain to be relieved almost instantly.
Your mouth will be numbed completely during treatment, so you won't feel any discomfort during treatment. Root canal therapy is the best way to alleviate the pain of an infected tooth, which can be unbearable.
Root canals are one of the most effective dental treatments available, but in rare cases, the treatment can fail. If there is any decayed material or bacteria left behind, the infection can return. If the infection comes back, you’ll return to our office for endodontic retreatment, during which your tooth will be reopened and the root canal process will be repeated to ensure that the infection is completely removed.
Not always. Although dental crowns are usually the best way to protect your tooth after getting a root canal, and are almost always recommended for posterior teeth (molars and premolars), fillings can also be used to restore anterior (front) teeth. Your dentist will let you know what kind of restoration is best for you after your root canal has been completed.
Root canal therapy is generally covered, at least in part, by most major dental insurance providers. However, it’s best to consult with your own insurance provider to gain an understanding of your benefits.