A root canal is a conservative dental treatment that can help save teeth that would otherwise need to be extracted. Dentists need to perform a root canal therapy on teeth that have become infected through decay or have become damaged. The infection can affect the pulp of the tooth, which is the central part of the tooth that contains the nerves. If the infection isn't cleared up it could result in an abscess developing, which is extremely painful. Sometimes an infected pulp may have no symptoms, but will still cause damage to the surrounding bone that is holding the tooth in place. Without treatment the tooth may become loose and could need extracting.
Root canal therapy is very effective and is something that can be carried out by your general dentist, although if they think your case is particularly complex they may choose to refer you to an endodontist who specializes in root canal treatments. The treatment is usually carried out under a local anesthetic and is quite straightforward. Your dentist will make an opening in the crown of the tooth to expose the infected pulp. They will then remove the infected pulp and clean out the root canals using specially shaped files. If the infection is particularly bad they may choose to place medication topically into the pulp chamber to kill off any remaining bacteria.
The tooth is then sealed with either a permanent or temporary filling, depending on your situation. Your dentist may choose to place a post made from plastic or metal into the tooth as this will help to strengthen it and help to prevent the tooth from cracking. The pulp of the tooth isnt essential to its survival, as it is only really required while the tooth is developing, and is only used to sense whether foods are hot or cold.
If the infection was quite severe your dentist may also prescribe antibiotics to make sure it is completely cleared up. Temporary fillings will need to be replaced with either a permanent filling, or if there was a lot of damage to the tooth, it may be necessary to have it crowned to restore it to full function. Most people find that having a root canal is not that different from having a filling, and it is usually a highly successful treatment. However, sometimes problems can develop and the tooth may need re-treatment. Very occasionally the treatment may fail due to the tooth root becoming cracked. Cracks can be difficult to detect, but if this happens then your dentist will have little choice but to extract the tooth.
Alison Aldridge has over 25 years of experience working within the dental industry.
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