When one of your teeth gets injured or infected, the soft tissues, blood vessels and nerves that lie in its center, called the pulp chamber, also become damaged. In the past, this meant certain death for both tooth and pulp, and, more often than not, forced dentists to extract the compromised tooth.
Advanced technology available today has made it possible to save teeth injured or infected in this manner. In fact, there’s an entire dental specialty devoted to preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases or injuries to the dental pulp called Endodontics.
When the tooth’s pulp becomes injured or diseased, it loses its vitality, resulting in pulp death, and negatively affecting the root canal beneath it. The most common causes of pulp death are a cracked tooth, a deep cavity, or traumatic injury to the tooth, which allows bacteria and their products to leak into the pulp. This can result in an abscess forming at end of the root, causing pain and swelling.
If the injured or diseased pulp is not removed, the tissues surrounding the root of the tooth can also become infected, resulting in more pain and swelling. Even if there is no pain, certain substances released by bacteria can damage the bone that holds the tooth in the jaw. To save a tooth experiencing pulp death, general dentists or an endodontist (a specialist in this therapy) may perform a root canal.
Treatment usually involves several dental visits. Here’s how your tooth is saved through root canal treatment:
First, the tooth is isolated from the saliva with a dam (a rubber-like sheet placed around the tooth). An opening is then made through the crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber. Local anaesthesia is usually given prior to this step so that you will be more comfortable during treatment.
The pulp is then removed carefully from both the pulp chamber and root canal. The canal is cleaned, enlarged and shaped to a form that can be filled. Medication may be put in the pulp chamber and root canal to help eliminate bacteria.
Next, a temporary filling will be placed in the crown opening to prevent saliva from getting into the chamber and root canals. You may also be given antibiotics if infection is present and has spread beyond the end of the root.
During the next stage of treatment, the temporary filling is removed. The root canal is then filled and permanently sealed with a natural, biocompatible material. In case of considerable tooth structure loss, a metal or plastic rod or post may be placed in the root canal for structural support, and a crown is usually placed over the tooth.
In the final step, a crown made of porcelain or metal alloy is usually placed over the tooth to restore structure, function and appearance. If an endodontist performs the root canal treatment, he or she will recommend that you return to your general dentist for the crown’s preparation.
Now that your dental treatment is complete, you’ll want to make sure you brush twice a day, floss daily and, above all, make a standing appointment with your dentist for regular check-ups. That way you can keep smiling on!