Root canal therapy is needed when the nerve of a tooth is affected by decay or infection. In order to save the tooth, all the living tissue inside the tooth, including pulp and nerves, is removed and the resulting space is filled with special medicated dental materials. A crown is then placed over the top to restore the tooth to its full function.

Having a root canal done on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would die and have to be removed. Many patients believe that removing a tooth that has problems is a good solution, but what they don’t realize is that extracting a tooth will ultimately be more costly and cause significant problems for adjacent teeth.

Root canal treatment is highly successful and usually lasts a lifetime, although on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to new infections.

Signs and symptoms of a need for root canal therapy:

  • An abscess (or pimple) on the gums
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Severe toothache pain
  • Swelling and/or tenderness
  • Sometimes no symptoms are present

Reasons for root canal therapy:

  • Decay has reached the tooth pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth)
  • Infection or abscess have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip
  • Injury or trauma to the tooth

What does root canal therapy involve?

A root canal procedure requires one or more appointments and can be performed by a dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist).

While the tooth is numb, a sheet of rubber will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva. An access opening is made on top of the tooth and a series of root canal files are placed into the opening, one at a time, removing the pulp, nerve tissue, and infected material. If tooth decay is present, it will also be removed with special dental instruments.

Next, the tooth is thoroughly cleaned to remove all bacteria. Then, the roots and the inside cavity of the tooth will be filled and sealed with special dental materials. A filling will be placed to cover the opening on top of the tooth. In addition, all teeth that have root canal treatment should have a crown (cap) placed. This will protect the tooth, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to its full function.

After treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive, but this will subside as the inflammation diminishes and the tooth heals. You will be given care instructions after each appointment. Good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits will aid in extending the life of your root canal treatment and preventing reinfection.