A root canal, also called endodontic treatment, is a common and safe procedure to treat an infection in the pulp of the tooth. Years ago, damaged and diseased teeth were removed. But the advent of modern dental techniques has enabled dentists to save and repair damaged teeth through root canal treatment. Infected teeth that are not extracted or repaired will be a source of infection, contaminating the body and weakening the immune system. Because damaged teeth do not heal on their own, as they get worse, they will continue to damage bone and be the source of extreme pain.
Teeth become infected when the pulp, the soft tissue of nerves and vessels inside the tooth, gets injured. Deep cavities and cracked or fractured teeth and multiple fillings are common causes of injury to the pulp. Very severe periodontal disease can be another cause. All of these can allow germs to get into the pulp chamber causing infection and disease. When this happens, the pulp cannot repair itself and dies. If this is left untreated, the pus from the infection eventually builds up at the root tip, making a hole in the jawbone called an abscess. An abscess can cause damage to the bone around the teeth.
Although some people have no symptoms, the following are common signs of tooth infection and the possible need for root canal treatment:
Patients undergoing root canal treatment will have one or more visits to the dentist or endodontist (a dentist specializing in the problems of the pulp). During the treatment the diseased pulp is removed and the pulp chamber and root canals are cleaned and sealed. The following steps and illustrations should help clarify the procedure:
An opening is made through the crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber.
The length of the root canals is determined, the unhealthy pulp is carefully removed, and the canals are cleaned, enlarged, and shaped. Medications may be put in the pulp chamber and root canal(s) to help remove germs and prevent infection.
If the tooth is severely infected, the tooth may be left open for a few days to drain. A temporary filling is placed in the crown to protect the tooth between dental visits. If the procedure is completed in one day, the canals are filled and then sealed. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to help control infection.
A crown or filling is usually placed over the tooth for further protection.
The material used to fill your root canal will probably last you a lifetime, but eventually the filling or crown may need to be replaced.
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