ROOT CANALS- What Are They?

Many people come into the office without any understanding of endodontic (root canal ) therapy.

I am often asked the following questions:

  1. Why do I need root canal treatment?
  2. Does that mean that I have to get the roots removed?
  3. After having a root canal, I had to have the tooth taken out. Is this common? How long do they last?
  4. Will the tooth be as good as new?

Endodontic treatment may be need if you have any of the following:

  • prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold
  • tenderness to touch and chewing
  • tooth discoloration
  • swelling or  drainage
  • tenderness of the lymph nodes

The need for treatment can arise from acute or chronic physical trauma, deep decay, or a loose cracked or broken filling.

Root canal therapy (Endodontics – within the tooth) doesn’t mean that the roots have to be removed.

Every tooth has one or more roots with one or more canals .  Within these canals are nerves and blood vessels which are called the pulp.  When the nerve is exposed to too much trauma, there can be swelling of the blood vessels (inflammation), pain, and sometimes nerve death or abscess.  Root canal therapy removes the pulp from the canals but leaves the roots intact. The canals are cleaned, reshaped, and filled with a special material called gutta percha.  This seal prevents reinfection by bacteria.

Endodontics has changed a lot over the years.

Once taking multiple visits  (I have heard as many as twenty), it was also associated with pain, many failures, and inconsistent results. People also associated root canal treatment with pain because the arrived at the office in pain. However,  endodontics is now relatively pain-free, can often be performed in one visit and has a very high success rate.

Will my tooth be good as new?

Once endodontic therapy is completed, a crown or other permanent restoration needs to be place within 30- 90 days.  Otherwise, the tooth may crack or the root canal seal may fail.  Usually more than a filling is needed for adequate protection.  Once restored, the tooth should remain problem free for many years. You can however still get decay in the tooth or break the tooth just like before the root canal treatment.  In fact, one has to be especially careful to have routine checkups because you will not feel anything if the tooth starts to decay.    Occasionally,  Endodontic surgery may be needed due to  unhealing abscesses, cracked roots, or deposits within the canal that inhibit complete filling of the canal.