What is a Root Canal?
Root canal treatment is the removal of the tooth’s pulp – the living tissue within the tooth. It includes the tooth’s nerve and blood supply. It is a little, thread-like tissue in the centre of the tooth. Once the damaged, infected, or dead pulp is removed, the remaining space is cleaned, shaped, and filled with a material called gutta percha. Years back, teeth with infected pulps were often removed. Today, root canal treatment saves many teeth that would certainly otherwise be lost.
The most common reasons for pulp damage or death are:
- A deep cavity
- A cracked tooth
- An injury to a tooth, from a fall or any other form of trauma, either recently or in the past
Once the pulp is infected or dead, if left untreated, pus can accumulate at the root tip in the jawbone, forming an abscess. An abscess can destroy the bone surrounding the tooth and can also cause significant pain.
How is a Root Canal Done?
Root canal treatment consists of several steps that may take place over numerous office visits, depending on the situation. These actions are:
- First, an opening is made through the tooth, so that the pulp can be accessed.
- After the diseased pulp is removed (a pulpectomy), the pulp chamber and root canals are cleaned, enlarged and shaped in preparation for being filled.
- If more than one visit is needed, a temporary filling is placed in the crown opening to protect the tooth between dental visits. Sometimes the tooth will be medicated at this point, to help clean the tooth and remove bacteria.
- The temporary filling is then removed, and the root canal is permanently filled. A tapered, rubbery material called gutta percha is placed into each of the canals and is often sealed into place with cement. Sometimes a metal or plastic rod is placed in the canal to either help rebuild the tooth or to prevent it from breaking. This is called a post.
- Lastly, the tooth will usually need a crown to restore its natural shape and its appearance. If the tooth is extremely broken down, a post might be needed to build it up prior to placing the crown.
How Long Will the Restored Tooth Last?
Your treated and restored tooth/teeth can last a lifetime with proper care. Because tooth decay can still take place in teeth with root canals, good oral hygiene and regular dental check ups are essential to avoid further problems.
As the pulp and living tissue have now been removed, root canal-treated teeth can become brittle and are more prone to cracking. This is an essential factor to consider when deciding whether to crown or fill a tooth after root canal treatment.
To determine the success or failure of root canal treatment, the most relied-upon method is to compare current X-rays with those taken before therapy. Teeth with root canals should have x-rays updated periodically for this very reason.