Why is a root canal recommended?
There can be several reasons why a root canal may be recommend for a tooth. The most common reason for needing a root canal is because a patient is in pain and the root canal procedure is one way to get them out of pain. A tooth can develop an abscess when decay penetrates through the hard outer layers of enamel and dentin, and into the soft pulp of the tooth, which contains nerves and blood vessels. Once the bacteria that cause decay have reached the pulp tissue, they can quickly travel to the supporting bone and colonize. Bone is much softer than teeth and the bacteria can quickly destroy bone and proliferate, often times causing the pain and swelling commonly known as a dental abscess. While antibiotics can help diminish the infection, they cannot completely eliminate it because the infected hard and soft tooth tissues need to be removed as well. One way to remove infected dental tissue is by simply removing the tooth (an extraction). The second way that the infected tissue can be removed is by doing a root canal, thus saving the tooth.
What is a root canal?
A root canal or root canal therapy does not involve removing the root of the tooth. The objective of a root canal is to help keep the tooth and the root of the tooth. A tooth, like an egg, has several layers. The outer layer of the tooth is called enamel and is the hardest substance in the body. The next layer of the tooth is the dentin. The dentin is softer than the enamel and contains microscopic tubules that lead into the nerve. The nerve of the tooth is located inside of a small room within the tooth, called the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber leads to a canal, or small tunnel, inside the root of the tooth. The nerve travels along the canal until it reaches outside of the tooth and connects with greater bundles of nerves. When a root canal procedure is performed, a small access hole is made through the tooth to un-roof the pulp chamber or “room” where the nerve is located. Once access has been made to the pulp, small instruments are used to remove the nerve from the root; much like removing the wick from inside of a candle. After the nerve is removed, the canal is progressively shaped with instruments to remove any infected hard tooth tissue. Additionally, different solutions are irrigated through the canal to disinfect and remove debris. Finally, the canals are dried and the root is filled with a sealing cement and a rubber type substance called gutta purcha. Usually, a temporary filling is placed in the crown portion of the tooth and a more permanent restoration (i.e. crown) will be placed at a later date. Depending on the individual's particular situation, Dr. Miller may elect to complete the root canal in one visit or it may take multiple visits depending on the severity of infection.