Root canal therapy fits under the special dentistry area known as endodontics. Endodontics literally means dentistry within the tooth itself. The procedure treats disorders of the pulp (the soft tissue inside the crown and roots made up of blood vessels, nerves and lymph vessels that help keep your tooth nourished). Endodontic treatment restores your tooth to a comfortable state by removing the damaged tissue and replacing it with a substance that will help preserve the function of the tooth.
There are many reasons that a root canal may be needed but the most common cause is the carious process (the uncontrolled process of tooth decay). When tooth decay begins, it penetrates the outer layer of enamel and creates a cavity. If that process is not stopped, the decay will continue toward the nerve of the tooth. Other causes include a fracture that exposes the pulp, traumatic injury such as a blow to a tooth, a cracked or loose filling or repeated fillings in a tooth and occasionally from periodontal (gum) disease. Regardless of the initial cause, the tooth pulp becomes irritated and an abscess (infection) can occur. Bacteria grow within the tooth pulp, causing pressure and pain. Eventually the pulp dies, causing the bone around the tooth to be destroyed.
All dentists receive training in endodontic therapy, however, you may be referred to an endodontist, a specialist who limits his/her practice to root canal procedures. The sooner you get treatment the better; your risk of losing the damaged tooth is decreased, your pain can be relieved, and your dentist may prevent infection from spreading further.
If you learn how healthy teeth can become damaged, you will understand why root canal therapy may be the best treatment to restore your mouth to a healthy state.
Once it has been determined (with x-rays and clinical examination) that root canal treatment is necessary, you will be scheduled for one or more appointments. Your visits may last one to two hours, and you will receive local anesthesia. A rubber dam (a protective sheet of rubber that covers your mouth) may be used to isolate your tooth and prevent bacteria from entering it. The goal of the root canal therapy is to improve the health of your damaged tooth by removing the damaged pulp and bacteria from your root canals through a small opening in the crown. Then the canals are sealed with special materials to prevent bacteria from reaching your bone. Your dentist then restores the outside of your tooth so it will function properly and have a healthy appearance. After root canal therapy, outer ligaments of the roots continue to be nourished by your surrounding gums and bone.
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