What, Exactly, is a Root Canal?

What is a root canal?

A root canal is the anatomical term to describe a portion of a tooth.  Teeth are hollow, and the internal chamber that contains the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth is called the root canal.  The nerves and blood vessels are also called the pulp.

What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is a dental procedure that involves removing the nerve tissue and blood vessels from the root canal inside the tooth and sealing the cleaned space with a root canal filling material.

Why is it necessary? 

A root canal is necessary when the pulp (nerve and blood vessel tissue inside the tooth) becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep cavities, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, leaking crowns, a previous injury to the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, trauma to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.

What is an Endodontist?

An endodontist has two or more years of specialized training in root canal treatments, in addition to their dental training. On average, they perform nearly 25 root canal treatments a week.  Because they limit their practice solely to endodontic treatment, endodontists are efficient and precise. This equates to positive experiences and faster healing. Endodontists are highly skilled at treating difficult root canals like those on molars and teeth with curved roots.

Why would I be referred to a specialist? 

Dr. Chowning believes that you deserve the best treatment for each individual procedure that you may require.  There are some teeth with complicated canal systems requiring a more specialized technique.  These scenarios include teeth with multiple canals, canals that have calcified (shrunk) over time, and canals that split or curve on their path down the root.  We also believe that complicated root canals should be performed with the aid of an operating microscope, which allows the endodontist to visualize the internal surfaces of the roots.  These are especially important in the diagnosis of root fractures, which can cause root canals to fail in the future.  Left undiagnosed, a root fracture can lead to repeated treatment on a tooth that has a poor-to-hopeless prognosis.

Is a crown necessary to cover the tooth after root canal treatment? 

Yes.  A root canal treatment removes the nerves and blood supply from the internal chamber of the tooth.  With no blood supply, teeth become brittle and can easily fracture.  A crown is necessary to protect the tooth.  If the tooth is not adequately covered, it could crack and need extraction despite having the root canal treatment.  Ideally, the crown should be placed within 2-3 weeks of the root canal treatment.

What is an alternative to root canal treatment?

If the nerve inside a tooth is irreversibly inflamed, infected, or dead, the only alternative to a root canal treatment is extracting the tooth.  Most teeth can be restored with a dental implant after extraction if the proper planning is done before the tooth is extracted.  Please ask Dr. Chowning for more information if you do not wish to save the tooth with a root canal treatment.

Do you need a root canal?

If you have a toothache, a swelling in your mouth, or a tooth that you already know needs a root canal, please call today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will evaluate any problem areas and discuss all of your treatment options with you.