Root canal therapy or treatment is a dental procedure in which the nerve and pulp is removed from the center of a tooth in order to treat an infection or to prevent the area from becoming infected. Teeth consist of an outer layer of hard enamel that covers an inner layer of bone-like material called dentin. In the center of the tooth is the pulp containing the nerves and blood vessels that nourish the tooth.
Sometimes an infection forms in the pulp due to damage to the tooth. An infection will usually, but not always cause the tooth to become painful. If left untreated, the infection will spread to nearby tissues causing further damage and requiring removal of the tooth.
Root canal therapy is meant to preserve and save the natural tooth. Even after the nerve and blood vessels are removed, the tooth can survive because it receives nourishment from blood vessels in the gums. Root canal therapy removes the infected tissue, stops the infection from spreading, and preserves the natural tooth.
After numbing the area, your dentist will drill a hole in the tooth to gain access to the root canal. Your dentist will then remove the infected material, disinfect the area, and seal it.
In most cases, a cap is placed on the tooth after the root canal is completed in order to protect the root canal and to repair damage to the tooth such as a crack or decay. A root canal with a cap is considered a permanent restoration and the tooth should last for years. Root canals have a reputation for being uncomfortable, but in modern dentistry, there should not be any more discomfort during a root canal that there is with the placement of a filling although the root canal procedure will take more time.
Most people wonder why root canals are really necessary. After all, they have a reputation for being lengthy and uncomfortable. However, the truth is that they are just like having any other filling procedure done. Local anesthetic (or sedation if you like) is used to numb the area so that patients have little to no discomfort during their treatment. Depending on what tooth is being treated and how many roots it has, the procedure can be shorter or longer than others.
When it comes to repairing and saving teeth, root canal therapy is the last step in salvaging a tooth before it progresses so far that it needs to be extracted. As decay or bacteria spread through the dense enamel, sometimes it exposes the inner nerve canal of the tooth to the infection. When this happens it is necessary to remove the infected nerve tissue and place a filling material inside of the canal. Just treating the cavity alone is not enough, as it would block a bacterial infection inside of the nerve tissue. When the bacteria have nowhere to exit, it forms an abscess out of the tip of the tooth root.
Root canals are used to treat abscessed, broken, fractured and decayed teeth. A variety of different filling materials may be used to fill the infected canal, and then a crown is placed on top. A crown is necessary because the tooth is no longer living and may become more brittle after the pulp chamber has been accessed for treatment. This allows the tooth to stand up to normal forces during chewing.
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