Need a Root Canal? This Is What It Means

Has your dentist ever mentioned that you need a root canal? You’re probably wondering what “getting a root canal” actually means. Here is why the treatment is necessary and how the procedure works.

Tooth Damage and Infection

The inside of every tooth has pulp (nerve) that consists of blood vessels, connective tissue, lymphatic tissue, and tooth nerves.  These tissues and nerves are housed in both the root canal space and pulp chamber. The tooth’s nerve can become damaged from tooth decay, a crack in the tooth, or being drilled by the dentist for a crown or filling. A vital tooth is very sensitive and reacts to this trauma.

The nerve of the tooth might suffer from partial damaged but can still repair itself in many cases. This is called reversible pulpitis. Reversible pulpitis results in short periods of discomfort immediately followed by relief once the damage is removed.

When your dentist determines that you have reversible pulpitis, a root canal treatment is not necessary. A diagnosis is crucial, but a careful examination and assessment needs to be made by your dentist. When the nerve is damaged and cannot repair itself, the discomfort becomes long lasting and unrelenting pain. This is called irreversible pulpitis, and the nerve is showing signs that it is dying.

Once the tooth’s nerve has died, bacteria from the oral cavity will enter the root canal space. These bacteria travel down the root canal and take up residence that space. This infection of the root canal space sometimes leads to pain, swelling, and puss as the infection spreads. This type of infection is called abscess and results in rapid loss of bone around the tooth. Abscess may also spread to the spaces of the cheek or tongue and represent a medical emergency that can be life threatening.

How a Root Canal Procedure Works

To prevent damage to your teeth, your dentist will recommend root canal treatment. The procedure, or endodontic therapy, is a dental procedure where the pulp is cleaned out and the space disinfected and filled. The procedure is difficult as the tooth may have four or more root canals. Also, teeth vary in their internal anatomy: unusual root canal shapes, curves, complex branching.

Another factor is the present smaller branches near the root end (or apex) called the accessory canals. Multiple canals and accessory canals present a challenge for the cleaning phase of the procedure. There is also a high chance of the treatment failing. If a secondary root canal goes unnoticed by the dentist and is not cleaned and sealed, it will remain infected, causing the root canal therapy to fail.


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