Endodontics is the dental specialty that deals with tissues and structures located inside the tooth. One of the most common endodontic treatments is root canal therapy, a procedure which effectively eases the pain associated with a bacterial infection deep within the pulp of the tooth. Of course, root canal treatment doesn't just relieve pain — it also stops the infection by removing dead and dying tissue from the tooth's pulp. Plus, it helps to save the tooth, which is in danger of being lost if left untreated.
Yet root canal therapy isn't the only treatment endodontics offers. This field also deals with cases of dental trauma, performs microsurgery on the tips of the tooth's roots, and even helps figure out what's going on when tooth pain seems to come and go intermittently, or when the pain isn't localized at one tooth. So when it comes to preserving your natural teeth, endodontics has plenty of ways to help.
The Inside Story
What's inside your teeth? Behind the tough, shiny enamel of the tooth's visible crown lies the sturdy inner tissue called dentin. Dentin is also found behind the cementum that forms the outer layer of the tooth's roots — in fact, it makes up the bulk of the tooth's structure. Similar in many ways to bone tissue, dentin is composed of many tiny tubules which can transmit sensations to nerve cells when it is stimulated.
At the core of the tooth, inside small, branching chambers called the root canals, we find the soft pulp tissue. This consists of nerves, connective tissues and blood vessels which extend into the center of the tooth and exit through canals near the apex (tip) of the tooth's roots. When problems (such as infection and inflammation) develop in the pulp tissue, your first indication of trouble may be tooth sensitivity — or intense pain. In time, as the nerves die, the pain may go away… but the problem won't. In fact, if left untreated, the end result may be tooth loss.
The “Root” of the Problem
What could cause the pulp tissue to become diseased and lead to root canal problems? One potential source of infection is untreated tooth decay, which can allow bacteria from the tooth's surface to work its way deep inside. A crack or fracture in a tooth could offer another pathway for microorganisms to infect the pulp.
Dental trauma — from a sports injury, for example — may also damage dentin or pulp, or expose it to infection. Extensive dental procedures (such as multiple fillings or restorations on the same tooth) may cause trouble; occasionally, even routine procedures like orthodontics may eventually lead to root canal problems.
The old gag line “I'd rather have a root canal” may still get a laugh — but root canal problems are no joke. It's important to remember that root canal treatment doesn't cause pain; it relieves pain. A typical root canal procedure is performed with local anesthetics, and doesn't cause any more discomfort than having a filling. Here's what to expect:
First, you will receive anesthesia (usually a numbing shot) — and for many patients, the worst is now over. Next, a small opening is made in the tooth surface to give access to the pulp chamber and root canals. Then, tiny instruments are used — often with the aid of a microscope — to remove dead and dying tissue from inside the narrow passages. These passages are then cleaned, disinfected, and filled with a safe, inert material. Finally, the opening in the tooth is sealed to prevent contamination.
Other endodontic treatments may be recommended for removing sources of infection and preventing future problems. Following an endodontic procedure, it may be necessary to have a restoration (such as a crown) placed on the tooth to restore it to full function and aesthetic appearance. After that, with proper care the restored tooth should last for many years.
Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment The term “root canal” can send shivers down many a spine. However, preconceived notions that root canal treatment is filled with pain and discomfort are nothing more than outdated myths. In fact, root canal treatment doesn't cause pain but actually relieves it... Read Article
Root Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth You may think that if a baby tooth comes out prematurely, it's no great loss; after all, it was going to fall out anyway, right? Wrong! Primary (baby) teeth serve as important guides for the permanent teeth that will replace them. Losing baby teeth prematurely can allow bite problems to develop. Root canal treatment for children can prevent this. Learn what to look for in your child and what can be done to save baby teeth until they are ready to be lost naturally... Read Article
Tooth Pain? Don't Wait! Pain is a protective response that informs the body that something is wrong. Tooth pain, specifically, is caused by a reaction of the nerves inside a tooth's pulp chamber, with the severity dependent upon the type and degree of the stimulus. This article gives some examples of pain symptoms and their possible causes... Read Article
Root Canal Treatment
Root canal treatment — also called endodontics (“endo” – inside, “dont” – tooth) — is a set of specialized procedures designed to treat problems of the soft pulp (nerve) tissue inside the tooth. While some mistakenly think of it as an unusually painful treatment, in most cases the procedureRead more
Root Canal Retreatment
Most of the time, root canal therapy is effective at permanently relieving tooth pain and halting infection of the soft tissues deep inside the teeth and gums. But occasionally, as in any medical procedure, the body may not heal as we expect it to. After a period of time, you may experience pain in theRead more
Root Canal Surgery (Apicoectomy)
Occasionally, root canal treatment proves unsuccessful at resolving an infection in the tissues near a tooth's roots. That's when a minor surgical procedure called an apicoectomy may be recommended. Because this procedure is often performed with the aid of a microscope and other small specialized tools,Read more
Whitening Traumatized Teeth
Teeth whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic dental treatments — and it's easy to see why. Having whiter teeth can make you look years younger, and the procedure itself is among the most conservative (and cost-effective) cosmetic treatments dentistry offers. Sometimes, however, achieving a pleasing,Read more
If your teeth seem especially sensitive after you brush them or when you consume certain foods or beverages, you're hardly alone: By one estimate, around 35 percent of the U.S. population experiences some degree of tooth sensitivity. While the difference between sensitivity and pain may be somewhat blurry,Read more
Firmly anchored in your jaw and protected by an outer coating of tough enamel, your teeth are remarkably strong — yet it's still possible for them to chip, crack, or even break. In fact, there is some evidence that today, our teeth are developing cracks at a record rate. This may be due to the factRead more
Root Canal Treatment for Children
Root canal treatment is a safe and effective way to stop many kinds of tooth pain, and to keep a tooth from being lost due to decay or injury. But if a root canal is recommended for your young child, you may wonder why: Isn't that baby tooth going to fall out in a few years anyway? That's true —Read more
Root Canal Treatment FAQs
If you have been told you need root canal treatment, you may be feeling a bit nervous. Not to worry — treating root canal problems is a routine part of dentistry that can relieve certain kinds of tooth pain and help your teeth last longer. As you learn more about this beneficial procedure, you willRead more
Combined Root Canal & Gum Problems
When you experience pain in your mouth, it's sometimes abundantly clear which tooth is causing it. At other times, the sensation of discomfort is more diffuse, generalized or hard to pinpoint. On occasion, it can even be challenging to determine exactly what problem or combination of problems is causingRead more