A tooth is composed of multiple layers. Beneath the exterior, known as the enamel, is a hard layer called the dentin. Within the dentin lies the innermost layer, or the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots and consists of soft tissues that contain blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. If bacteria enter the pulp chamber, they can begin an inflammatory process that leads to infection, decay, and eventually bone damage, abscesses (painful infection in the root of a tooth), and pulp cell death. Common causes include repeated dental procedures on the tooth, a faulty crown, or a crack in the tooth.
What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a treatment used to remove the dead, infected, or injured pulp from your tooth. Removing the affected pulp relieves pain while also protecting your gums, jaw, and other teeth from further infection and nerve decay.
In the past, extractions were the primary treatment for unhealthy tooth pulp. Now, almost every endodontist or dentist will tell you that if a root canal is feasible, it is typically the better option. While the initial investment may be more, it will be less than the cost of replacing an extracted tooth later and will allow you to maintain your natural smile and avoid ongoing dental work.
Signs You May Need a Root Canal
- Your tooth is extra sensitive to heat and cold.
- Your tooth is dark or discolored.
- Your tooth or filling is cracked or broken.
- You have severe pain with pressure or eating.
- You have a large, visible cavity.
- You have an abscess on the gum line.
- You have pus draining into your mouth.
- You have a foul taste or odor emanating from the tooth.
What Happens During the Procedure?
A root canal involves three basic steps. First, the top of your tooth is opened, exposing the damaged interior. Second, the diseased, damaged, or infected pulp (tooth interior) is cleaned out and replaced with a rubber-like filling material. Finally, the tooth is sealed, and a crown may be placed to prevent bone loss and the spread of infection.
Is It Painful?
The procedure itself is painless, because your dentist or endodontist will first numb your tooth with a local anesthetic. A patient may experience mild to moderate pain following the procedure, but it can be managed with good aftercare, including:
- Taking over-the-counter pain medications
- Avoiding sticky and hard foods
- Avoiding chewing with the treated area
- Brushing and flossing as normal
- Completing an antibiotic regimen as prescribed