I need a “root canal”…What is that?

Sagittal view of molarA root canal is the common term for a dental procedure where the pulp(middle portion of a tooth made up of blood vessels and nerves) becomes injured and/or dies. This requires the pulp to be removed and for the pulp spaces to be disinfected and sealed with an interior filling. In reality all teeth have “root canals” so the name is just referring to a location that all teeth have, both baby and adult ones. Under normal healthy conditions, the pulp of a tooth is sterile(bacteria free).

The most common reason that a tooth needs a root canal is because bacteria, usually through a traditional cavity, reach the pulp and start a process of inflammation. In most cases inflammation(swelling) inside of the tooth will cause sensitivity or pain. In less common situations, the pulp of a tooth can be damaged and eventually die completely in a non painful manner. Eventually all teeth with bacteria inside of them will abscess and cause severe pain and swelling although sometimes it takes a very long time for this to occur. The same way that all people and snowflakes are unique the same goes for all teeth and the immune systems of the person they belong to.

A root canal, most properly called an endodontic treatment, is the solution for an injured or infected pulp inside a tooth. It results in the center of the tooth that prior to injury was filled with healthy blood vessels and nerve tissue being thoroughly instrumented and disinfected. The final stage of the procedure is placement of a filling into the cleaned out areas. Root canals cannot be appreciated in the mouth as they are as the name implies in the roots of the teeth. For most patients they can see the results of a root canal only by seeing an X-ray of their tooth. On an X-ray the root canal filling material will appear as a single or multiple white lines. Some teeth will have a single white line after the procedure and some will have 4 or more. All teeth are different and the number of canals or spaces where injured or infected tissue is present can vary tremendously based on the internal anatomy of the tooth.

The end goal of root canal treatment is for the tooth to return to a comfortable state that no longer feels different than any other teeth. Without pulps, teeth with root canals don’t have hot or cold sensations however this fact is unlikely to ever be something that is concerning to a patient.

In most cases, particularly with back teeth that put up with most of the chewing forces, teeth after root canals need to be protected with crowns. The reason is that most teeth needing root canals in the first place have been weakened by decay and/or fractured and so without a protective crown they would be much more likely to break under normal chewing forces.

If ever you have any questions regarding root canals or any other dental procedure feel free to call our Virginia Beach dental office any time at 757-961-4300.