Root Canals – The Basics

Although we prefer to focus primarily on preventative dental care and keeping your teeth healthy for life, there are many times when our patients come to us with issues that require a more extensive approach for treatment. 

One of such issues is when a tooth becomes inflamed or infected internally. Caused by a number of factors including deep decay, injury, repeated dental procedures on a tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth, this inflammation or infection within the pulp of the tooth can lead to intense pain and infection. In this case, we refer patients to an endodontic specialist for a procedure most commonly known as a “root canal.” A root canal is essentially a treatment to repair and preserve a badly damaged or infected tooth.

Understanding the Root of a Tooth

In order to understand a root canal effectively, it helps to understand the anatomy of a tooth. A tooth is made up of three main layers: the outside layer of enamel, the inner hard layer called dentin, and an inner soft tissue called pulp. The pulp is made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues that creates the surrounding hard tissues during development. The pulp reaches the crown of the tooth down to the tips of the root. This root layer is especially important during the tooth’s growth and development. When this layer becomes inflamed or infected, this is when a root canal is most often the best course of action. Without this procedure, abscesses may form and lead to tooth loss.

Diagnosis of a Root Canal

Signs that a root canal may be needed (when the pulp layer might be inflamed or infected) include: intense pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, swelling, draining or tenderness in the nearby tissue, or tenderness to touch and chewing. These symptoms are a first significant sign that a root canal may be necessary. Once our dental team has examined a patient that is experiencing dental distress, we will take dental x-rays to see where the decay is located. Aligned with a thorough examination, this process may lead to the recommendation of a root canal as the best course of treatment. At this point of diagnosis, the patient will be referred to an endodontic specialist for the procedure.

What Happens During a Root Canal?

A root canal is a multi-step procedure but typically does not cause any more discomfort for a patient than a standard dental filling. Local anesthesia is administered to the affected tooth. Once the area is properly anesthetized, the first step involves the endodontist removing the inflamed or infected pulp of the tooth. After the infected pulp is removed, the endodontist deeply and carefully cleans the inside of the root canal where the infected pulp resided. Once the tooth is properly cleaned from the inside out, the endodontist then fills the space with matter to seal it and make it strong. The tooth is sealed over with a dental cement to keep the inner area sterile. Just as it sounds, the term “root canal” comes from the act of cleaning the canals inside the tooth’s root.

After the procedure, you will return to our dental office for a crown or other restorative treatment to protect the tooth and to restore it to full function. 

While often a preferred last resort, the root canal is a procedure that may allow a patient to keep a tooth that otherwise would have to be removed due to the level of inflammation or infection. We at River Valley Smiles are committed to providing the highest level of care to you and your family and will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for damaged or compromised teeth so that you can get back to your life! If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above and would like for us to help diagnose and treat, please contact our office.