Root canal treatment (also known as endodontic treatment) is a procedure that involves the removal of a tooth’s pulp, which is the soft tissue inside every tooth that has the nerve and blood supply for the tooth. It is usually done when the pulp has become infected, either from a previous deep cavity or sometimes due to trauma to the tooth. The goal of the treatment is to preserve the tooth in the mouth but eliminate the infection and any associated pain. Once the pulp has been removed, a soft plastic material is placed in the canal space to seal it off and prevent a return of the infection, then a silver or tooth colored filling is used to cover the access opening on top of the tooth.
The procedure is done using local anesthesia (“novacaine”) and is usually painless. It is frequently recommended that the tooth be fully restored with a restoration like a crown which completely covers the tooth and prevents it from fracturing, which can sometimes happen after the pulp is removed, depending on how damaged the tooth was before treatment began. Sometimes, however, if the tooth is still fairly intact, a simple filling is all that is needed. This is often the case with front teeth.
We are often asked why we don’t just extract the infected tooth. While this is an option, it is usually preferable to save the tooth because of several problems that can arise from a missing tooth. These include shifting of the adjacent teeth which can affect how they function when chewing and can open up spaces around the teeth making them more difficult to clean and possibly leading to cavities or gum disease. Plus losing a tooth, especially at a young age, can lead to changes in the jaw bone structure that can, over time, make future replacement more difficult or limit your options for replacement.
However, there are times when an infected tooth is in such a compromised condition that it becomes more advantageous to remove it and replace it with an artificial tooth, which can be done a variety a ways depending on the condition of the remaining teeth. These situations are further discussed in the CROWN AND BRIDGE, PARTIAL DENTURE, and IMPLANT SECTIONS on this site.