I have a toothache. What does it mean?
Toothaches can mean several different things, but they are most commonly symptoms of a tooth infection. Tooth infections are treated with root canal therapy, and they really aren’t as bad as their reputations claim. These days, root canal therapy is more similar to getting a cavity filled, and receiving treatment will help you get out of pain instead of dealing with the discomfort of an infected tooth.
Did you know…
About 15% of Americans avoid going to the dentist due to fear or misconceptions.
How it works: The root canal treatment process
Exam & X-Rays
During your appointment, your dentist will perform an exam and review your x-rays in order to properly diagnose your issue. If it is a tooth infection, the next step is to determine the extent of the infection, and decide whether or not root canal therapy will be effective for treating the problem.
Local Anesthesia & Sedation Options
To start the procedure, your dentist will numb the site, including the nerves of the treatment area, using a numbing needle. You may also opt to receive sedation to ensure you feel comfortable throughout the process.
Removing Decay & Infected Pulp
Once you are comfortably numb, your dentist will begin removing any decayed material starting with the enamel. From there, they will move toward the pulp. Once the infected pulp is removed from the inside of the tooth and the canals have been thoroughly cleaned, the area is flushed with disinfectant to eliminate bacteria.
Filling The Root Canals
After the inside of the tooth has been cleaned and sanitized, the root canals will be filled with a rubber-like material called “gutta-percha.” This inert substance replaces the extracted pulp and supports the interior of the tooth to maintain structure.
Sealing Or Capping The Tooth
Once the interior of the tooth has been filled, it will be restored with either a filling or a dental crown, depending on how much enamel was lost during the procedure.
Types of root canal therapies
Anterior Root Canals
Anterior root canals are performed on your anterior, or front, teeth. They are considered to be more difficult and complex than posterior (rear or molar) root canals. This is because the front teeth are smaller, and do not have a large chewing surface.
In the standard posterior root canal procedure, an opening can be created on the top, or crown, of a molar or premolar. This is not possible with an anterior tooth, so an opening must be created in the lingual surface of the tooth — the side that faces the tongue. In addition, it can be more difficult to restore anterior teeth with a crown or a filling, since the surface of the tooth is much smaller.
Posterior Root Canals
Posterior root canals are a more common treatment. The posterior teeth (molars and premolars) become infected more commonly than the front teeth because they have deeper pits, grooves, and fissures that can harbor cavity-causing bacteria and plaque.
In a posterior root canal, an opening is made in the top chewing surface of the tooth, which provides easy access to the interior pulp and root canals. Once the procedure is complete, the tooth is restored with either a filling or a crown, depending on which will best support the remaining tooth structure.
Root canal therapy is usually very effective and can preserve the natural structure of your tooth. However, sometimes a tooth that has received root canal treatment may not heal properly or new complications may arise. This can occur due to complicated canal anatomy within your tooth, making it difficult for a general dentist to remove all the infected pulp. An improperly fitted crown can also cause reinfection by letting bacteria back into the treated tooth. In these cases, root canal retreatment may be necessary to save the tooth and avoid extraction.
During a root canal retreatment, your dentist will open up the treated tooth and remove the existing canal filling. Using special magnification and illumination tools, your doctor will take a look at your tooth’s anatomy to identify any additional canals or unique structures that may require retreatment. Once the canals are clean and a new canal filling is in place, a temporary crown will be placed to protect your tooth until your permanent crown is ready to be attached. Once you receive your new dental crown, your retreated tooth will be healthy and strong once again.
Pulpotomies are often called “baby root canals,” because this pediatric treatment is used to treat infected baby teeth. The process is quite similar to that of a root canal in an adult tooth.
Your child’s dentist will begin by cleaning and numbing your child’s mouth, removing decayed enamel, and creating an opening in your child’s tooth to access the infected pulp. Once the infection is cleared from the roots, the interior of the tooth is cleaned and sanitized.
After the area is disinfected, a special healing dressing will be applied to the remaining pulp. This dressing will encourage the pulp to heal, which will keep the baby tooth alive and healthy until it falls out as part of your child’s natural oral development.
Did you know…
Root canals are a simple, common procedure with about 25 million root canals being performed every year.
Have questions about root canal treatment? Find answers here.
What causes a root canal?
You will need root canal therapy if your tooth becomes infected. This happens one of two ways:
A serious cavity can eat away at the outer layers of your enamel and dentin. Eventually, this decay will expose the vulnerable pulp (the material that keeps your tooth alive) to bacteria that causes the infection. Dental trauma can crack the enamel and dentin, exposing the nerve and blood vessel-filled pulp to oral bacteria.
Regardless of how the infection occurs, the pulp will begin to decay and die once it becomes infected. When this happens, you’ll experience symptoms like a toothache, gum inflammation near the tooth, and tooth sensitivity.
Does root canal treatment hurt?
No. It’s a common myth that root canal therapy hurts when, in fact, it is the toothache caused by the infection that is painful. In modern dentistry, there’s no need for pain. Root canal therapy is similar to receiving a dental filling.
Your mouth will be completely numb during the procedure, and you can even be sedated at our office, if you wish. Getting a root canal is the best way to rid yourself of the pain and discomfort of an infected tooth, which can be very severe.
Can root canal treatment fail and what happens if it does?
In rare cases, root canal treatment can fail. If not all of the decayed material and bacteria are removed, the tooth infection may come back. If this happens, you’ll come back to our office for endodontic retreatment. Your dentist will re-open your tooth and repeat the root canal process, and ensure that the infection is completely removed.
Do I always need a crown with a root canal?
Not always. Crowns are usually the best way to protect your tooth after root canal therapy, and are recommended for posterior teeth (molars and premolars). However, fillings are sometimes used to fill front teeth. Your dentist will let you know if you need a crown or a filling after your root canal appointment.
Is root canal therapy covered by insurance?
Root canal therapy is usually covered by the vast majority of dental insurance policies to some degree. However, we do recommend that you consult with your insurance provider so that you understand your benefits and which treatments are covered.
Did you know…
Getting root canal therapy can save you from more invasive procedures, like a tooth extraction.