What is a root canal?
The inside of a tooth is a network of tunnels where the nerves and blood vessels, or pulp, lives. When tooth decay spreads deep enough that bacteria reaches into this network, the infection spreads through the whole tooth. A root canal removes the decay and infection and seals and protects the tooth from future infections.
Why do I need a root canal?
If a tooth is so badly decayed that bacteria reaches the internal chamber, or if the chamber is exposed to the oral cavity for other reasons (trauma), a root canal can be the only way to save the tooth. Left untreated, and infected tooth will lead to pain from biting pressure, cold, or for no reason at all. The infected pulp also leaches toxins out of the tip of the root, which can lead to facial swelling. Aside from the acute pain, an untreated infection burdens your immune system and adversely effects your overall health.
Indications that you might need a root canal:
Spontaneous pain (the tooth hurts for no reason).
Throbbing while biting.
Pain that does not subside after the stimulus has been removed (for example, a cold-sensitive tooth that hurts for a while after you’ve swallowed the cold water).
Swelling or drainage of pus.
How is a root canal done?
After the tooth is completely numbed, the decay is cleaned out along with the infected pulp. The canals inside the tooth’s roots are disinfected and filled with a rubber-like material that seals out bacteria.
A filling is placed on the biting portion of the tooth where the decay was. Root canaled teeth almost always need to be crowned because they are more susceptible to fracturing.
A root canal saves a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted.
Occasionally, a tooth that has had a root canal will need to be retreated. Root canaled teeth are more susceptible to breaking, usually because of the amount of tooth that was lost to decay.
Other possible treatments:
Once a root canal is indicated for a tooth, extraction is usually the only other definitive solution.