In the past, the phrase “root canal” has inspired dread in many dental patients. Envisioned it as a tedious and painful process, many of these patients would put off the necessary procedure until the day-to-day pain in their mouth became unbearable. Fortunately, advancements in root canal therapy over the past decade have done much to relieve this once “scary” situation and it now boasts a success rate of more than 95%.
Root canals are typically performed when a tooth has become severely decayed or the nerve is damaged. They are also performed when lack of proper care causes a tooth to become infected or abscessed.
Without treatment, the infection can become quite severe and painful, with swelling in the face and neck commonly occurring. The only alternative to a root canal in this situation is a full tooth extraction followed by replacement of the tooth with a bridge, partial denture or implant. All of these options are far more elaborate, time-consuming and, by extension, expensive.
Occasionally the need for a root canal will be discovered by a routine dental exam – that is, before any pain is noticed by the patient – but usually the following symptoms are present.
A root canal begins with the standard drilling process inside of the tooth to remove the bulk of the decayed interior. A smaller, rounded drilled is then employed to remove the rest of the decay and expose the actual tooth canals. Next, files of varying sizes are used to extract any nerve tissue remaining in the canal.
Once the removal and cleaning portion of the procedure is completed, the dentist will start to fill the canal with resin-covered “cones.” They are placed in every canal to ensure a tight fit. Any excess portions of the cones are then removed with a heated instrument. This tool is also used to further compact the cones into the canal. In severely damaged teeth, a metal post may also be placed to strengthen the tooth.
To fill the rest of the space in the tooth, a special UV-sensitive resin is used. Highly malleable at first, it is pushed into the space and then hardened with a bright light. Finally, the exterior of the old tooth is removed and a synthetic cap or crown is molded and inserted. Over time, the gums will heal naturally and the tooth will be saved.