What happens during a root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is very similar to having a tooth filled. With a root canal, the root part of the tooth is filled rather than the top of the tooth. First, your dentist will numb your tooth. A dental handpiece will be used to make an opening into the infected part of the tooth, the pulp. A rubber shield called a rubber dam will be fitted over your tooth to keep the area sterile and protect you from the small instruments that will be used to shape the inside of the tooth. After the infected pulp and the canal have been shaped, a root canal filling will be placed into the tooth. The top part of the tooth may need a filling or a crown depending on the amount of destruction that occurred either from a cavity or breakage of the tooth.

Root canal treatment starts by getting consent from the patient to do the treatment. This consent should explain the different steps of the procedure, results and any possible complications. In my office I also go over the procedure with my patients so they know what to expect as far as the mechanical parts and the duration of it. I start by getting the patients anesthetized in the area completely so they do not feel any pain. Then depending on the tooth, the broken or decayed part of the tooth is removed or if it already has a crown on it, an access point is made so the nerve area of the tooth which is called the pulp can be cleaned. At this point depending on the particular tooth it may have from 1 to 3 and in some cases up to 6 canals which all need to be cleaned mechanically by using files so all the infected tissue is removed from the canals. After disinfecting the canals using different solutions, they are dried, filled and sealed so bacteria cannot get inside and reinfect the tooth. At this point the root canal procedure is done. Although the final treatment of tooth is not finished since after a tooth has had root canal therapy almost always it needs to be covered with a crown since when you remove the nerve from a tooth you also remove the blood supply. As a result the tooth has a tendency of becoming more brittle so it needs to have a crown on it to protect it from fracture.

To a patient, it's very similar to having a cavity filled -- only on a larger scale. In most cases, the inside of the tooth is hollowed out, and the infected pulp removed. The area will be cleaned, disinfected, and the tooth roots filled. Because the tooth is now weakened (and technically "dead"), a crown is usually placed over the tooth to protect/strengthen it.
During a root canal, your dentist will remove the diseased pulp from your tooth. Following that, your dentist will then clean and seal the pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth. They do this because if the infected pulp is not removed, pain and swelling can result, and your tooth may have to be removed. A root canal can help restore your tooth and your smile!

Continue Learning about Root Canal Therapy

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.