Answers about root canal treatment

Root canal treatment has given dentists a safe way of saving teeth. Sometimes the tooth's soft core (the dental pulp) inside your tooth becomes inflamed or infected. This can be caused by deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, a crack or chip in the tooth or a blow to the tooth.

Years ago, teeth with diseased or injured pulps were removed. Today, your dentist uses root canal treatment to find the cause and then treat problems of the dental pulp.

Root canal Q&A

What are the signs of needing root canal treatment?

Signs to look for include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums. But sometimes, there are no symptoms.

What happens when dental pulp gets injured?

Dental pulp is the soft tissue that contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. It lies within the tooth and extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the root in the bone of the jaws.

When the pulp is diseased or injured and can't repair itself, it dies. The most common cause of pulp death is a cracked tooth or a deep cavity. Both of these problems can let germs (bacteria) enter the pulp. Germs can cause an infection inside the tooth. Left without treatment, pus builds up at the root tip, in the jawbone, forming a "pus-pocket" called an abscess. An abscess can cause damage to the bone around the teeth.

Why does the pulp need to be removed?

When the infected pulp is not removed, pain and swelling can result. Certain byproducts of the infection can injure your jawbones. Without treatment, your tooth may have to be removed.

What does treatment involve?

Treatment often involves from one to three visits. During treatment, your dentist removes the diseased pulp. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned and sealed.

How long does the restored tooth last?

Your restored tooth could last a lifetime, if you continue to care for your teeth and gums. However, regular checkups are necessary. As long as the root(s) of a treated tooth are nourished by the tissues around it, your tooth will remain healthy.

What is an "endodontist"?

All dentists, including your general dentist, received some training in endodontics while in dental school. Endodontists are specialists who perform only endodontic procedures, both routine and complex. They are also experienced at finding the cause of oral and facial pain that is difficult to diagnose. Often general dentists refer patients needing root canal treatment to endodontists.

Will the tooth need any special care or additional treatment?

You should not chew or bite on the treated tooth until you have had it restored by your general dentist because your tooth could fracture. Otherwise, just practice good oral hygiene: brushing, flossing and regular checkups and cleanings. Endodontically treated teeth can last for many years, even a lifetime.

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