A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. A tooth's nerve and pulp can become irritated, inflamed, and infected due to deep decay; repeated dental procedures on a tooth; or large fillings, a crack, or chip in the tooth. It also can happen because of trauma to the face.
During a root canal procedure, the nerve and pulp of the tooth are removed and the inside is cleaned and sealed. Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and an abscess may form.
A tooth's nerve is not vitally important to a tooth's health and function after the tooth has come through the gums. Its only function is sensory -- to give the sensation of hot or cold. The absence of a nerve won’t affect how your tooth works.
Root canal procedures have the reputation of being painful. But the procedure itself is no more painful than having a filling placed.
When a tooth's nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess happens when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. An infection in the root canal of a tooth can also cause:
If you need a root canal, you may notice these signs:
A dentist or endodontist can perform a root canal. An endodontist is a dentist who specializes in the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and injuries of dental pulp or the nerve of the tooth. If your root canal may be more difficult, your general dentist may suggest you see an endodontist.
The procedure will follow these steps:
After a root canal, your mouth will be numb for a couple of hours. Most people can go right back to work, school, or other activities. You may want to wait until the numbness is gone before eating.
For the first few days following the completion of a root canal, the tooth may feel sensitive due to tissue inflammation, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This usually can be eased with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).
Until your root canal procedure is completely finished, with a permanent filling in place or crown, try to avoid chewing with the tooth. This helps keep the area clean and may prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before it can be fully restored.
Brush, floss, and use an antiseptic mouthwash as you regularly would and see your dentist at normally scheduled intervals.
Root canal treatment is highly successful; the procedure has more than a 95% success rate. Many teeth fixed with a root canal can last a lifetime.
Since some of the reasons the nerve of a tooth and its pulp become inflamed and infected are due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures or large fillings, there are steps you can take to help you avoid a root canal:
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