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Root Canals can permit the retention of a tooth which would otherwise be lost. Long the butt of comedians' jokes, root canals are a modern, safe, effective, and usually painless method to treat teeth which are abscessed or badly broken down.
What is a root canal?
A root canal, also called "endodontics," is dental treatment which takes place within the tooth; more specifically, it deals with the pulp chamber and canal which contain the "nerve" of the tooth. This nerve is more properly referred to as the pulp. Damage or death of this pulp tissue can result in loss of the tooth. A root canal involves removal of the diseased pulp and filling of the pulp chamber with an appropriate material. Modern materials and techniques have made this procedure much more successful and efficient than in the past.
When is it necessary?
There are many reasons a root canal may be needed. The most common reason is decay, either current or in the past. Decay can allow bacteria to enter the pulp and destroy the tissue. Likewise, large fillings or crowns indicate that the tooth at one time had a large cavity, and the pulp tissue may not have been able to recover from that injury. Sometimes a tooth will become infected from within causing an abscess. Symptoms can include severe pain, swelling, tenderness to chewing, or there may be no symptoms at all. A third cause of pulp death can be trauma to an otherwise healthy tooth. This trauma can cause damage to blood vessels which supply nourishment to the tooth, without which the pulp will die. Lastly, a tooth may require a root canal for no other reason than the pulp tissue has died for an unknown reason.
Will it hurt?
While it is impossible to guarantee anything 100%, endodontic treatment today is usually accomplished as a completely pain free procedure in the dental office. The use of modern anesthetics and pain control techniques makes this possible. Indeed, most of the pain associated with root canals is the pain caused by the abscessed tooth prior to treatment.
How long does it take?
Endodontic treatment can be highly variable in difficulty, but most treatment is now accomplished in one or two appointments. More difficult cases may require additional visits or referral to a dentist who specializes in endodontics.
Will I need a crown?
Most teeth, and especially back teeth, will benefit greatly from a crown or similar restoration. Root canal teeth tend to fracture, and you don't want to go through a root canal only to lose the tooth later. It may also be necessary to insert a post, similar to a reinforcing rod, into the tooth prior to placing a crown. The nice thing about a tooth with a root canal is that it no longer feels pain, so these teeth can be worked on without anesthetic in most people.