Root Canal Treatment

Root canal therapy is the process through which your dentist treats the inner aspect of the tooth.  Specifically the dentist treats the “pulp tissue,” which is known by most people as the “nerve.”  The nerve of the tooth is the inner aspect of the tooth that is the space inside the tooth.  The root canal is the area in which the nerve resides.

The purpose of a root canal is to make this area healthy and to fix it so that it will remain healthy.  In most cases the root canal is affected by a bacterial infection or another irritating substance that is leaking into the root canal.  In response to these irritants the body enacts its defense mechanism and causes inflammation.

In the process of the root canal, the bacteria, the broken down nerve tissue, and bacterial toxins are removed from the inner area of the tooth.  Once these irritants are removed, the space is cleaned and then filled and sealed.  This is done to minimize the possibility of bacteria recolonizing in the root canal.  The seal will contain and encapsulate any of the debris that was not removed so that it cannot cause irritation, but will eventually breakdown.

After the root canal is completed, the tooth is sealed and protected with a crown that covers the cusps of the tooth.  If this is not done the tooth may fracture and cause more problems.  If the tooth canal is not properly sealed, the root canal may leak and cause failure of the root canal.  This can cause tooth decay and lead to additional dental problems.  Many people believe that once a root canal is done the tooth cannot decay.  This is not necessarily true, as the tooth can still decay if it is not taken care of properly with an adequate fluoride source.  It is important that the patient continue to have regular dental check-ups and x-rays to ensure that the root canal is still working properly.

There have been several innovations over the past decade that has made root canals faster and less dreaded by patients.  There have been advances in advanced root canal fillings as well as automated mechanical instruments.  Dentists are also able to take scientific measurements of the dimensions of the root canal and may perform more successful operations.

There are rare occasions in which a root canal may fail.  These may fail if the root canal is not properly or completely cleaned and filled.  For example, a top molar is more difficult to and the fourth canal in the tooth is difficult to see.  If it is missed, the infection may reenter the canal and cause it to “flare up.”  These flare ups, however, can be retreated and fixed even if it has been years since the original root canal.