Root Canal

Medically Reviewed by Greg Grillo, D.D.S.

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Root canals are dental procedures used to remove infected pulp tissue from the inside of a tooth. When dental pulp becomes infected, it can be extremely painful, resulting in a chronic toothache.

A tooth is composed of three key components: enamel (the hard shell), dentin (the soft middle layer) and dental pulp (the soft inner layer). Dental pulp, which is made up of nerve tissue, lymph tissue and blood vessels, is the most important part of the tooth. This vital tissue runs through canals in the roots to the center of the tooth. Exposure to oral bacteria, a fractured tooth, or blunt trauma to the face cause dental pulp trauma. Root canal therapy then is necessary to fight off infection and prevent future tooth loss.

Root Canal Procedure

The root canal procedure involves carefully locating the center chamber of the pulp and shaping and cleaning the channels located below the pulp chamber.  Once this is done, the roots can be sealed with special filling material.

Debris, such as nerve, lymph and blood tissue, bacteria and infection, is first removed from the pulp chamber and its surrounding areas. The canals are disinfected thoroughly, shaped, and filled to the ends of the roots.

Symptoms of Root Canal Infection

Minimal to severe pain, tooth discoloration, swelling and irritation in the gum tissue, and dental X-rays that show signs of infection are possible signs and symptoms of diseased or infected nerves. If you experience any of these symptoms, you may need to consider a root canal to save your tooth. The infection may lead to secondary oral health problems including dry mouth, bad breath, oral thrush, etc.

Causes of Root Canal Infection

Most commonly, root canals are required because of poor oral hygiene or dietary habits that lead to cavities.  Teeth can become infected due to severe tooth decay, cracks or chips. Failing dental fillings or dental crowns also can allow bacteria to seep into the dental pulp. Once exposed, the dental pulp dies, the body’s inflammatory responses take over, and the combined infection and inflammation result in a significant toothache.

Root Canal Therapy

Tooth extraction may be necessary in severe cases when a root canal will not save the tooth. You always have the option of removing a tooth instead of having a root canal, but saving a natural tooth is always a wise consideration. The missing tooth can be replaced with a dental implant or dental bridge.

If you suffer from a toothache, it is strongly recommended that you visit your dentist for a thorough evaluation. Severe tooth infections can have serious consequences. More extensive medical treatment, such as hospitalization, may be necessary if an infection spreads to the neck or around the eyes.

The cost of root canal therapy varies depending on the severity of the condition and whether additional treatments are required. Dental insurance can help offset the costs of root canal therapy, though the degree of financial assistance varies depending on your level of coverage.