You’re likely familiar with the term “root canal,” even if you’ve never needed root canal treatment yourself. It pops up in pop culture relatively often, and it’s a common enough treatment that you probably know someone who’s had it done. Even though its name is well known, many patients are unfamiliar with the specifics of root canal treatment.
Root canal treatment is designed to clear out infections deep in your tooth, when the only other alternative would be to remove the tooth entirely, which is something all good dentists do their best to avoid. Removing a tooth can be expensive, and also can cause your other teeth to drift, leading to painful dental problems, so saving a damaged tooth often saves a lot of headaches.
The best way to understand how root canal treatment works is to start with a basic anatomy lesson on the structure of your teeth.
Root Canal Treatment: The Anatomy of a Tooth
Teeth feel hard to the touch, and why wouldn’t they? Eating is such a regular part of life that it’s easy to forget how much stress chewing puts on your teeth. Add in the need to resist tooth decay and it’s no surprise that your teeth have a strong outer layer for protection. Underneath the protective layer, though, are softer layers that are vulnerable to infection and decay.
- The outer layer of a tooth is called enamel, and it’s the first line of defense. Enamel gets damaged by tooth decay and regular wear-and-tear, but it can be replenished with regular fluoride use. Underneath the enamel is the softer dentin layer, which is far more easily damaged than enamel.
- Beneath the dentin layer is the core of the tooth, called the pulp chamber, where blood vessels and nerves are located. When the outer layers of a tooth decay, bacteria are able to reach the pulp chamber and potentially cause a serious infection. The infection can in turn cause an abscess to form at the end of the root canal where the tooth connects to the jaw.
How Root Canal Treatment Works
An abscessed tooth is typically very painful, and can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Root canal treatment allows your dentist to clear out the infection and save the damaged tooth. The Canadian Dental Association does a great job of laying out the process in clear terms.
- First, a local anesthetic is applied to numb the area where the root canal treatment will take place. Your dentist will also place a “dam” device around the tooth to keep saliva and the bacteria it contains away from the affected area.
- After all preparations are in place, an opening is created in the infected tooth to allow access to the pulp chamber. Your dentist will then use specially designed tools to widen the root canal and remove the infected pulp.
- Once the canal is cleaned completely, your dentist will seal it. A temporary or permanent filling is then placed to cover the opening your dentist made at the start of the procedure.
- The final step happens at a later visit, when the tooth is restored. In most cases, your dentist will use either a permanent filling or a crown to restore the tooth, so that it looks and feels just like your natural teeth.
Root canal treatment is a complex procedure, and a very important one, too. An infected tooth can lead to major oral health problems, and cause problems in other areas of the body. If you are feeling pain, swelling, or other symptoms of infection, talk to your dentist. Depending on your unique needs, root canal treatment may be the perfect option for getting rid of an infection without getting rid of the infected tooth.
At Loreen Wong Dentistry in downtown calgary, we offer the educational resources and dental services you need to maintain great oral health. If you have anxiety about root canal treatment or other dental work, consider sedation dentistry for a more comfortable experience.