Root Canal Therapy

What is a root canal?

tooth after endodontic treatment

A root canal (also known as endodontic treatment) is one of the most common dental procedures performed, with well over 14 million done every year.  The goal of the procedure is to save your tooth and prevent the need for its replacement with an implant or bridge.  The concept of endodontic therapy is based on the idea that we need the roots of our teeth, but once our tooth has formed, we don’t need the soft tissue within the tooth which made our roots. 

At the center of your tooth is soft tissue called the pulp. It is comprised of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.  It has the primary function of forming our teeth and then becomes encased within the hollow areas of our roots (the canals) and the crown (the pulp chamber).  Infection and inflammation of the pulp can be caused by trauma to the tooth, deep decay, cracks, chips and even routine restorations. If this happens, severe pain, throbbing, thermal discomfort and possibly even swelling could occur and the patient might have to decide whether to extract the tooth or have the dental procedures necessary to save it.  Keep in mind nothing is as good as your natural tooth and as long as it is otherwise healthy, it is almost always better to try and save it.  Endodontic therapy is based on the concept that once your tooth is formed, the pulp is no longer essential and if it becomes compromised, it can be removed and your tooth can  still be healthy and functional.

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If you experience any of these symptoms, your dentist will most likely recommend endodontic treatment to eliminate the diseased pulp. After the tooth has been anesthetized very well, it is isolated with a small protective sheet called a dam, which keeps it clean and free of saliva during the procedure.  An opening is made through your filling or crown and the injured pulp is removed using very small cleaning instruments, the canal(s) sterilized with different solutions and the canal system is then sealed with a material called gutta percha.  The opening in your tooth is closed with a temporary material, which will stay in place until your dentist sees you.  This therapy involves using nothing more than local anesthesia and the goal is to provide you with successful treatment performed in a manner that is acceptable to you.  Many times this can be done in one visit, but sometimes the anatomy of your tooth, the biology of your problem, or other factors can cause the need for additional visits.  Success for this type of treatment occurs in about 90% of cases. If your tooth is not amenable to endodontic treatment or the chance of success is unfavorable, you will be informed at the time of consultation or if a compromising factor becomes evident during or after treatment. 

will there be pain during or after the procedure?

Dr. Marshall is well known for his time and patience in gaining excellent anesthesia for your procedure.  Ask your dentist what sort of feedback she or he has received from other patients, over the years and you will gain a great deal of comfort from what you hear.  Many patients sleep during their treatment.  At the end of your appointment you will be told what to expect and be given instructions.  Usually there are minor symptoms for the first 24 to 48 hours and biting pain is to be expected, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure.  Most patients usually need nothing more than Advil (or if you can’t take that, Tylenol) and many patients find they need nothing at all.  You will be given prescriptions if needed.  Most patients resume their normal, daily routines immediately. 

What happens after treatment is completed?

When your root canal therapy has been completed, a temporary filling is placed and a report of your treatment will be sent to your restorative dentist. You should contact their office for a final restoration within a couple of weeks of completion at our office. Your dentist will decide what type of restoration is necessary to protect your tooth. Ideally, most teeth should have a crown after endodontics to protect it against fracturing and possible loss.  If the tooth was broken, carious, or otherwise weak, it might require a post and buildup, before this can be done.  You should try to not chew or bite on the treated tooth until you have it restored.  To prevent the possibility of decay, continue to practice good dental hygiene and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and check ups.

How much will it cost?

The cost associated with this procedure can vary depending on factors such as the severity of damage to the affected tooth and the number of roots of the tooth involved. In general, endodontic treatment is much less expensive than tooth removal and replacement with an artificial tooth.