What is a Root Canal?

Tooth Section Medical IllustrationPopular culture has made the phrase “root canal” synonymous with pain, the worst possible dental torture. Many patients become concerned about the discomfort with this procedure, imagining a large drill and sharp tools. Some might even avoid coming to the dentist for fear of this diagnosis. However, root canal therapy is actually a relatively simple procedure that can save your tooth. It’s also very commonly performed – according to the American Association of Endodontists, about 15 million patients get root canals every year. This week, we’ll explain what creates the need for a root canal and how the procedure works.

Striking a Nerve

At the very center of your tooth is its pulp, a layer of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This is what allows your tooth to perceive sensations like hot and cold. The pocket in which the pulp resides is called the root canal. In healthy teeth, the hard outer layers of the tooth protect the root canal, shielding the pulp from harm. However, if your tooth becomes damaged due to injury or decay, bacteria can infiltrate, causing inflammation or infection. This can be quite uncomfortable; symptoms often include sores, swollen gums, and toothache. If allowed to persist, pulp damage could jeopardize your tooth, ultimately requiring extraction. In addition, the infection in your pulp can spread to other teeth or throughout your body if left untreated. If your pulp is damaged, inflamed, or infected, your dentist will need to perform root canal therapy.

Root Canal Therapy

Although this procedure is commonly referred to as a “root canal,” root canal therapy more accurately conveys the point of the treatment: to restore the health of the tooth and remedy the damaged root. During root canal therapy, your dentist will begin by using a small instrument called a rotary file to make a hole in the chewing surface of the tooth. Then, they will remove the injured pulp entirely. Next, to ensure the long-term health of the tooth, they will clean and disinfect the root canal before filling it with a synthetic material called gutta-percha. Your dentist will then cover the hole with filling material and seal it. This procedure usually requires just local anesthesia, but if needed your dentist may also perform sedation dentistry to keep you calm and comfortable if you are concerned.

Placing a Crown

Often, if you undergo root canal therapy, you’ll need to have a dental crown, a tooth-colored cap, placed over your tooth to protect it from further injury. Your dentist will use custom made crowns that mimic the appearance of natural enamel and blend in with your unique smile. To design your crown, they will take an impression of your tooth, creating a 3D model that our dental lab will use to sculpt your restoration. Sometimes, your dentist may need to shape the tooth so that the crown can fit snugly over it. You may wear a temporary crown while your permanent one is being made. Once the permanent crown is ready, your dentist will attach it to your tooth with strong bonding cement.


Directly after your root canal therapy, your teeth and gums may continue to feel numb from anesthesia. For the next few days, you should chew carefully around the affected tooth, especially if you are wearing a temporary crown. When your permanent crown is ready, your dentist will slide it over your tooth using local anesthetic. From that point forward, the crowned tooth should look and function like the rest of your teeth. they will check that the tooth is healthy with visual exams and sometimes X-rays at your routine cleaning appointments. Of course, if this tooth begins to hurt or swell again, you should contact your dentist immediately for follow-up treatment.

Protecting Your Roots

Especially at our office, a root canal doesn’t have to be scary. This procedure can relieve your discomfort and preserve your oral health for many years to come. Contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S. to learn more about root canal therapy or schedule an appointment.

Original Source: https://flanagansmiles.com/oral-surgery/root-canal/

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