A root canal or root canal therapy is the procedure used by a dentist in order to repair and save a damaged tooth when it is badly infected or decayed. Essentially, during the root canal, the pulp and nerve of the tooth are removed by the dentist and the inside of it is cleaned and subsequently sealed.
When the pulp or nerve tissue of a tooth is damaged, deterioration can begin and bacteria start to seep in to the pulp chamber of the tooth. This bacteria and other decaying debris, like food particles and carbohydrates such as sugar, may cause an infection or tooth abscess. An abscessed tooth can occur when the infection burrows all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. An abscess is a puss filled pocket which forms at the bottom of the roots of a tooth. Also, an abscessed tooth can become very uncomfortable and painful if left untreated.
Additionally, when the root of a tooth is infected it can cause other symptoms beyond the above mentioned tooth abscess. An infection can also cause:
- Swelling of the gum area around the tooth which can in severe cases spread into other surrounding areas of the face.
- If left untreated, bone-loss may occur near the infected tooth’s roots.
Interestingly, the nerve of the tooth is not essential to the future function or health of that tooth. The only function that this nerve plays once the tooth has fully emerged from the gums is basically a sensory role. The nerve allows one to feel both hot and cold, etc. Because of this, the removal of the nerve does not negatively affect the functioning of a person’s tooth.
In some cases there are no immediate symptoms to indicate that a root canal may be necessary. Here are a few other signs to look out for that may indicate that a root canal is needed:
- Sensitivity or pain from hot or cold temperatures, even when the temperature difference is gone
- Teeth that have become discoloured where the sensitivity occurs
- Swollen gums around the affected tooth
- A “pimple” like bump on the gums around the infected tooth
- Pain in a tooth when chewing or biting down
A natural question to arise when discussing a root canal procedure is whether there are any alternatives available. First off, a dentist’s main goal is to save a person’s natural teeth. This is of course always the best option and a root canal makes this possible. This fact makes the root canal the treatment of choice to allow someone to keep their natural teeth.
There really is only one viable alternative to a root canal. This alternative is extracting the tooth and replacing it with an implant or bridge. This will allow for proper chewing and will prevent any shifting of the adjacent teeth. In most cases these alternatives are more costly than a root canal, require additional procedures to the surrounding teeth as well as end up taking longer to complete.
Because of the negatives involved with leaving a badly decayed or abscessed tooth untreated, it is recommended that an individual consult their dentist if they have any concerns with their teeth. Also, time is of the essence in ensuring that a root canal can be successful in saving the damaged tooth.
Please contact our office immediately if you have any concerns or experience anything abnormal regarding your teeth. As always, a solid dental hygiene program including regular brushing, flossing and 2 professional dental cleanings per year will go a long way in preventing the need for a root canal or other emergency dental procedures.