Root Canal – Endodontics

What Causes a Root Canal?

When a cavity is left long enough, the decay can burrow into the deeper reaches of the tooth. This decay can cause extensive damage to tooth structure. When this damage goes beyond what can be treated by a filling, dentists can perform a root canal (or endodontics).  This procedure preserves the tooth and retains its original integrity, saving the tooth.

Technically speaking, endodontics is a dental specialty for the treatment of dental pulp. If the dental pulp becomes diseased or injured, treatment is required to save the tooth. The most common endodontic treatment is root canal therapy. These experts are called endodontists.

Why is an Endodontics Treatment Necessary?

There are a number of reasons why an endodontist will suggest a root canal treatment, these reasons include:

  • Inflamed/infected tooth pulp
  • Severe sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Tooth decay
  • Chipped or broken tooth
  • Blow to the tooth
  • Swelling or tenderness near the infected tooth
  • Repeated dental procedures on a tooth

If these conditions are left untreated, severe tooth decay can occur. Decay can reach the root of the tooth, causing extensive damage to the tooth structure. 

How Do I Know If I Need a Root Canal?

A root canal becomes necessary when a tooth is badly decayed and becomes infected. The root canal procedure extracts decayed pulp from the central part of the tooth. Then the dentist reshapes the canal, and replaces it with strengthening filler. 

Symptoms That Show You May Need a Root Canal

The tooth may have persistent shooting pain that can become unbearable. If the tooth is showing signs of discomfort make sure you get scheduled for an appointment right away.

When a cavity is allowed to sit for too long, extensive damage to the tooth structure could occur. If decay goes deeper into the tooth the damage goes beyond what can be treated by a filling. This is when dentists have the option to perform a root canal. Root canals help to retain the original integrity of the tooth.

This outlines the importance of getting a cavity filled in a timely manner, so more invasive procedures like a root canal won’t have to be performed. Even more ideally, is preventative care; such as brushing your teeth, flossing and going to your dentist for cleaning on a regular basis.

Work with your dentist to discuss the details of any endodontic treatments and any possible alternatives.

Endodontics Procedure

It is commonly believed that root canals are painful, but they are actually similar to having a cavity filled, producing minimal pain.

  • Patient undergoes anesthesia.
  • A dental dam is used to isolate the tooth.
  • The tooth is opened so that the infected or dead pulp can be removed.
  • The tooth is thoroughly cleaned.
  • The dentist uses special tools to reshape the canals.
  • The tooth is filled with biocompatible filling material.
  • A temporary covering is used to cover the access opening.
  • Patients MUST see their regular dentist quickly for a permanent restoration of the tooth.

How Long Should My Root Canal Last?

A root canal, also referred to as endodontic treatment will allow you to keep your natural tooth for decades.  Root canals are likely to last your entire lifetime. However, every person and tooth is different so how long yours actually lasts will depend on several factors.

One of these factors is how soon the treatment takes place after it’s needed—you don’t want the infection to spread into the bone.  A similar factor is then how quickly you have your necessary follow-up visit to restore the tooth with a permanent filling or crown.  Bottom line: you do not want to put off these necessary treatments.

Also, the longevity of the treatment depends on the tooth that is getting treated.  Front teeth have single roots and are easier to treat.  They also receive less biting action than the back teeth.  Back teeth are more difficult to get to and more complicated to treat.

The age of a tooth also determines how resistant it will be to fracture. As our teeth age they become more brittle and thus more likely to fracture, especially our back molar teeth.  This is one reason a crown is important after a root canal. Crowns cover and protect the tooth, which will help with the durability and longevity of the root canal.

Learning that you need a root canal is never fun, but treating the problem is crucial.  You may have a lot of questions.  Feel free to ask the dentist all the questions that are on your mind.

Smoking and Root Canals

This year marks 50 years since the famous Surgeon General report telling us that smoking is bad for our health.  Yet still today 18% of adults over the age of 18 smoke cigarettes.  And each day, more than 3,200 persons younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette.

The good news is that the majority of smokers want to quit and the list of reasons is very long.  One of the lesser-known issues with smoking cigarettes is the effect it has on oral health.  So if you’re a smoker add this to the list of reasons you need to quit.  A 30-year study from Boston University discovered that cigarette smokers are 70% more likely to need a root canal than nonsmokers.

Quitting sooner than later is going to go a long way to prevent endodontic treatments such as root canals.  There is a correlation with risk and total amount of time being a smoker versus being smoke-free.  The probability of needing a root canal later in life will decrease if you quit smoking.

So now you have one more reason to quit: less time in the dentist chair.  If you’re a smoker make a plan today to finally do what you’ve been thinking about doing for long time!

Do you need a root canal? Contact our office to schedule an appointment.

Keep in mind that South Sound Dental also does other types of dental treatments other than root canals. Click here to look at all of our dental treatments.

Source: CDC –

Patient receiving a root canal procedure.